The Clay Helton Era at USC continues where it just about started: in the Holiday Bowl. The Trojans will play Iowa in San Diego on December 27.
The 8-4 USC football team will finish their roller coaster season down south, with a berth in the 2019 Holiday Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes. It’s the third time this decade Troy caps a campaign in San Diego’s SDCCU Stadium.
Despite flirting with a trip to San Antonio, USC lands in the Holiday due to the Utah Utes’ failure to secure a spot in both the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six as an at-large team. In turn, they dropped to the Alamo Bowl, paving the way for the Trojans as a shoo-in for the Holiday, given USC’s third-place finish in the Pac-12.
After last year’s 5-7 record kept them out of a bowl game, a trip down the 5 is a welcome sight for a Trojan team needing to send off Bilnetnikoff Award finalist Michael Pittman, along with senior captains Christian Rector and John Houston.
Their task won’t be easy. The 19th-ranked Hawkeyes finished the regular season with 9-3 record, having only lost to three Top-20 teams —Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State— by a combined 14 points. True to form under 21-year head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa’s year was highlighted by their upset of previously unbeaten Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium back in November.
The December 27th tilt will be the 10th all-time matchup between USC and Iowa, with the Trojans having won seven of the nine previous meetings. The most recent? The iconic 2003 Orange Bowl, in which Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer led USC to a dominant 38-17 win over Heisman runner-up Brad Banks.
The Trojans are 35-19 all-time in bowl games, with only the Alabama Crimson Tide having more postseason victories, at 40. A win over the black and gold in San Diego would be their second-ever in the Holiday Bowl, following a 45-42 bettering of Nebraska in 2014.
This also marks Clay Helton’s second venture to the stadium formerly known as Qualcomm. The Trojans came up short in his first bowl game as USC’s full-time head coach in 2015, a 23-21 loss to Wisconsin.