2017 Rose Bowl: USC, Penn State return to prominence after tough times
LOS ANGELES – The first time the two storied programs of USC and Penn State collided in a Rose Bowl matchup, it was 1923. The Nittany Lions, slowed down by New Year’s Day parade traffic in Pasadena, showed up late to the stadium despite cab drivers rolling over front lawns to get there. The Trojans won that matchup, 14-3, as the game started an hour late and ended under the moonlight.
Jump to 2009, and the two teams were back playing in the Granddaddy of Them All. Once again, USC triumphed, this time by a score of 38-24. But since that New Year’s Day nearly eight years ago, both the Trojans and Nittany Lions have had to weather major sanctions, coaching changes and tumultuous times. Safe to say, these two programs are back – back to the Rose Bowl and back to national prominence.
“You don’t even need to watch film to understand that the two teams that are going to play in the Rose Bowl are pretty similar,” USC All-American offensive tackle Zach Banner said. “We’re high intensity guys, both teams have great talent and a lot of great players. And obviously, the coaching staffs for both teams are excellent.”
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Big win streaks? Check. Talented quarterbacks who can also run the ball? Check. Defenses that love to bring the pressure? Check. Both Penn State and USC enter Monday’s contest toting similar storylines.
It starts with the signal-callers, as Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (2,633 passing yards, 26 passing TDs, 8 INTs, 230 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs), and his Nittany Lion counterpart Trace McSorley (3,360 passing yards, 25 passing TDs, 5 INTs, 352 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs) bring comparable stat lines and skillsets to the table.
“Both of them really take command of the offense,” said PSU middle linebacker Jason Cabinda. “Both those guys really play like veterans and that's something I like about both of them. That Darnold kid, he has a quick release with a strong and accurate arm. He finds his playmakers and he really commands the offense. Since he’s taken over, they’ve had a lot of success.”
With Darnold under center, the Trojans have rattled off eight straight victories. Meanwhile, McSorley has guided the Nittany Lions to a nine-game win streak, including a 38-31 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.
But perhaps Penn State’s biggest weapon when they have the ball will be Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Saquon Barkley. The sophomore running back racked up 1,302 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, while adding 347 yards and three more scores receiving.
When looking at the two programs and how they’ve bounced back from NCAA-imposed sanctions, Barkley can’t help but see the similarities.
“The adversity that we have been through, and also a credit to USC and that program,” Barkley said. “I think we’re two of the most historical programs in college football and that just gives credit to us to show how special both programs are that we’re able to overcome sanctions or whatever that quickly.”