Southern California (9-3) vs Penn State (11-2)
When: Monday, January 2nd 2017
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Time: 5:00 ET | TV: ESPN
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The of the hottest teams in the country will battle each other in the 103rd Rose Bowl as the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Southern California Trojans from Pasadena on January 2nd. 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. Penn State is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley and sophomore running back Saquon Barkley. 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. Barkley 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. He is the first Nittany Lions running back to garner All-American accolades since Larry Johnson in 2002. McSorley has a few weapons, including wide receivers 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 defense is 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). Penn State ranked fourth in the FBS in tackles for loss (112), 14th in sacks (39) and 22nd in total defense (352.0).
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The Trojans have an even younger quarterback making headlines since he took over the team after a rough start. USC was left for dead after a 1-3 start that included a 52-6 humiliating loss to No. 1 Alabama, but a change at quarterback to freshman Sam Darnold revitalized the Trojans and they finished with eight straight wins, including 26-13 over CFP-bound Washington and 21-17 over Colorado. Darnold took over for 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 first USC quarterback to throw five TD passes in consecutive games. Darnold fell just short 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. Running back Ronald Jones II ran for 1,027 yards and a 6.5 average while collecting nine touchdowns in his last five games. Junior wide receiver 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 targets 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 yards on kickoff returns and 15.9 on punt returns with a combined four touchdowns.
I think this line is a little too high. USC is the popular pick right now with the way their offense and defense are clicking, but Penn State makes big plays on offense as well, and they have an underrated defense. If Penn State keeps this game close, look out. They are the most dominant second half/fourth quarter team in the country.
Pick: Penn State +7