Southern California vs Penn State
When: 5:00 PM ET, Monday, January 2, 2017
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL STORYLINES
1. Although neither Penn State or USC was selected for the College Football Playoff, two of the hottest teams in the country meet Jan. 2 in ”The Granddaddy of Them All” — the 103rd Rose Bowl. Despite the Nittany Lions winning their last nine games, including 24-21 over CFP participant Ohio State and 38-31 over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference title game, they were left out of the playoff because of early losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan. Much like Penn State, USC was left for dead after a 1-3 start that included a 52-6 humiliating loss at No. 1 Alabama, but a change at quarterback revitalized the Trojans and they finished with eight straight wins, including 26-13 over CFP-bound Washington and 21-17 over Colorado.
2. This game features two of the best young quarterbacks in the country in Penn State sophomore Trace McSorley (school records of 3,360 yards passing and 25 touchdown passes) and USC freshman Sam Darnold (68.1 completion percentage, 26 TDs, eight interceptions). McSorley led the FBS in yards per completion (16.3), topped the Big Ten and finished 14th nationally in passer rating (156.6), and completed 39-of-54 passes for 760 yards with eight TDs and no interceptions in victories over Michigan State and Wisconsin to wrap of the Big Ten title. Darnold took over from Max Browne in the fourth game, finished second in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (86.8 behind Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield), and 10th in passing rating (161.0), and became the only USC quarterback to throw five TD passes in consecutive games.
3. McSorley had a record-breaking campaign but it was all made possible because of the threat of sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, who is on the short list for the 2017 Heisman and the likely first running back off the NFL draft board in 2018. The 5-11, 223-pounder ran for 1,302 yards and scored a total of 19 touchdowns – tops in the Big Ten – and finished second in the conference in all-purpose yards (128.2 per game) after adding 347 yards on 23 pass receptions. The first Nittany Lions running back to garner All-American accolades since Larry Johnson in 2002 won’t be the only back on the field as USC’s Ronald Jones II enters having run for 742 yards, nine TDs and a 7.8 yards-per-carry average in his last five games.
TV: 5 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: USC – 5.5
ABOUT PENN STATE (11-2): McSorley has a plethora of capable receivers, including wideouts Chris Godwin (50 receptions, 795 yards, nine touchdowns), DaeSean Hamilton (34 catches, 506 yards) and tight end Mike Gesicki, who set a school record for tight ends with 47 catches while totaling 668 yards and four TDs. The offense was able to overcome a much-maligned line which lost its top three tackles during the course of the season to average 36.7 points – including an NCAA-best 13 per fourth quarter. Befallen by injuries to all three starting linebackers early in the season, the defense, led by safety Marcus Allen (101 tackles), linebacker Brandon Bell (87 tackles in nine games) and defensive end Garrett Sickels (12.5 tackles for loss, six sacks), ranked fourth in the FBS in tackles for loss (112), 14th in sacks (39) and 22nd in total defense (352.0).
ABOUT USC (9-3): Darnold fell just shy of Cody Kessler’s completion-percentage school record of 69.7 set in 2014, but his 26 TD passes are a school record for a freshman and his 230 rushing yards are the most in a season by a USC quarterback since 1991. Jones ran for 1,027 yards and a 6.5 average, and junior wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster (63 catches, 781 yards, nine touchdowns), who ranks fifth all-time in receptions (206) joins Darreus Rogers (51 catches, 654 yards) as Darnold’s main threats in the passing game. Junior cornerback-wide receiver-returner Adoree’ Jackson (51 tackles, team highs of four interceptions, two fumble recoveries), who was named the winner of the 2016 Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, also averaged 30.5 on kickoff returns and 15.9 on punt returns with a combined four touchdowns.