Southern Cal vs Iowa
When: 8:00 PM ET, Friday, December 27, 2019
Where: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, California
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION HOLIDAY BOWL STORYLINES
- It is USC’s Air Raid offense versus a talented Iowa defense in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Diego. The Trojans, behind Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Kedon Slovis at quarterback and Biletnikoff Award finalist Michael Pittman Jr. at wide receiver, ranked fifth nationally in passing offense with an average of 335.9 yards per game and scored 33.2 points per game. They will be going against a Hawkeyes defense – led by two-time first team All-Big Ten defensive end A.J. Epenesa, a likely first round NFL draft pick – that is fifth nationally in scoring defense allowing 13.2 points per game and 10th in pass defense allowing just 184.2 yards per game.
- Who will be calling the plays for USC? Hot-shot Trojan offensive coordinator Graham Harrell was offered a contract extension two days after new athletic director Mike Bohn elected to retain head coach Clay Helton for another season but the Texas native interviewed for the same job at Texas and has yet to sign the new contract. Harrell was hired in January after Kliff Kingsbury abruptly quit to become head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and quickly drew plaudits for his offensive schemes and the development of Slovis, a three-star recruit who was forced into action following the season-ending knee injury suffered by JT Daniels.
- Which team will have more fans in the stands? The obvious answer would seem to be USC with its large alumni base in Southern California a short drive away. But Iowa is known for traveling to bowl games – who wouldn’t want to escape the snow and cold temperatures of the upper midwest for a few days of sun and fun? – while there was a large backlash from Trojan fans, many of whom were hoping Urban Meyer or Bob Stoops would be patrolling the sidelines, when Bohn elected to give Helton another season.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Iowa -2
ABOUT USC (8-4): The Trojans, who are 7-2 all-time against Iowa including winning the last six in a row, didn’t go to a bowl after finishing 5-7 a year ago and lost to Ohio State 24-7 in their most recent bowl game – the 2017 Cotton Bowl. All eyes will be on the coaching staff which could lose both Harrell as well as defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coordinator John Baxter, whose futures remain uncertain. Slovis completed 260-of-362 passes (71.8 percent) for 3,242 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions and had three wide receivers with 68 or more receptions – Pittman (95, 1,222 yards, 11 TDs), sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown (68, 879, six TDs) and junior Tyler Vaughns (68, 858, six TDs) while the defense, which features just two seniors, is led by three-year starter John Houston Jr. (100 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga (76 tackles, 2.5 sacks).
ABOUT IOWA (9-3): The Hawkeyes finished third in the Big Ten’s West Division with a 6-3 mark but closed the season on a 5-1 run including three straight victories over Minnesota, Illinois and at Nebraska to end the campaign. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley is a three-year starter who completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,738 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions while junior offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year and has been rated by some scouting services as the top tackle prospect for next spring’s NFL draft. Epenesa, who like Wirfs said he planned to play in the bowl game, had 45 tackles, nine sacks and three forced fumbles and along with senior linebacker Kristian Welch (80 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three sacks) leads a defense that posted shutouts over both Rutgers and Northwestern while holding Michigan to just 10 points.
PREDICTION: USC 28, Iowa 24