USC Football Meets Penn State In Classic Rose Bowl Game
Dec. 20, 2008
How's this for a premier bowl matchup: No. 5 USC and No. 6 Penn State in the 95th Rose Bowl. It's a Pac-10/Big Ten meeting between collegiate programs with storied gridiron traditions, featuring the game's most victorious coach (PSU's Joe Paterno, with 383 wins) versus the winningest active coach (USC's Pete Carroll, at 85.3%) and showcasing teams that mirror each other statistically. And it's an 86-year-old rematch of the first Rose Bowl played in the current Pasadena stadium, the 1923 game that was the initial post-season appearance for both schools (the coaches almost came to blows in that one!). This will be USC's 33rd Rose Bowl trip (and a record-tying fourth consecutive, plus fifth in the last 6 years), but just the third ever for the Nittany Lions. The teams have played only 8 times in history and just twice in bowls. The Trojans are riding a record-setting streak of 7 consecutive BCS bowls, 11-win seasons and Pac-10 titles. USC has won its last 8 games against Big Ten opponents, including an impressive win over Ohio State earlier this season. Penn State also beat the Buckeyes in 2008, plus it walloped the team that defeated the Trojans this year (Oregon State). USC traditionally has fared well in bowls, in BCS games, against the Big Ten, in January, on New Year's Day and in season enders. USC returns to the Rose Bowl stadium--its home away from home--for the 50th time less than a month after beating UCLA there in the regular season finale, just the third time Troy has played back-to-back in the stadium. This is the 91st straight game that USC, a winner in 85 of its last 95 contests, has been in the AP Top 25. Troy--on a 9-game winning streak--continues to be in the Top 20 in almost every national offensive and defensive stat category, including first in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and pass defense. In fact, USC's scoring defense average (7.8) is its best in 56 years, its total defense mark (210.6) is its finest in 41 years and its pass defense (124.0) is its best in 34 years. USC has surrendered just 11 touchdowns in 2008. Standout Trojan defenders include All-American Rey Maualuga (he's a 3-time All-Pac-10er and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year who also won USC's first Bednarik Award and was a Butkus, Lombardi and Nagurski finalist) and fellow Butkus finalist, All-American and All-Pac-10er Brian Cushing at linebacker and 2-time All-American first team selection Taylor Mays at safety (he was a Thorpe Award finalist), plus 2-time All-Pac-10 honoree Kevin Ellison at safety and 2008 All-Pac-10er Fili Moala at tackle. On offense, Mark Sanchez--the All-Pac-10 quarterback--remains the league's passing efficiency and total offense leader. The Trojan running game is led by a trio of career 1,000-yard rushers: TBs Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight. USC's leading receivers include WRs Patrick Turner (he is 10th among the school's career pass catchers and he has 10 TD grabs this year), Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson. Veteran OG-C Jeff Byers, in his second year in the M.B.A. program, and All-Pac-10 C Kristofer O'Dowd anchor the offensive line. Trojan offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be coaching his last game at Troy before becoming Washington's head coach. Penn State--which came within 2 points of being undefeated in 2008--has remarkably similar stats to USC on both sides of the ball, with both ranking among the nation's premier defenses. The Nittany Lion offense is directed by QB Daryll Clark, who is effective as a passer (2,319 yards, 17 TDs) and runner (265 yards). RB Evan Royster has rolled up 1,200-plus rushing yards and WRs Derrick Williams, Deon Butler (the school's career receptions leader) and Jordan Norwood each have at least 38 receptions and 450 yards. Williams is the only collegian in 2008 to not only return 3 kicks for scores, but to score via rush, reception, kick return and punt return. There's a trio of All-Big Ten players up front in Rimington Award winner and All-American C A.Q. Shipley (the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year), OG Rich Ohrnberger and OT Gerald Cadogan. On defense, Penn State is in the national Top 20 in scoring defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense, rushing defense, pass defense and turnover margin. The defensive star is All-American sack specialist DE Aaron Maybin and he's joined by such fellow All-Big Ten first teamers as LB Navorro Bowman, DT Jared Odrick and S Anthony Scirrotto. PK Kevin Kelly is one of the nation's best kickers and is the school's all-time scoring and field goals leader. The 91,000-seat Rose Bowl is sold out, but the game will be shown live nationally on ABC-TV and heard on ESPN Radio. ESPN's College GameDay will emanate from the Rose Bowl.