As we head into bowl season, MTS’ cadre of experts will be previewing the best matchups on tap for college football’s postseason. We’ll also look at the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl because it exists and you can bet on it. So stick with us all the way from the AFR Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 to the national championship game on Jan. 9.
Let’s take a closer look at …
The Rose Bowl: USC (-7, O/U 62) vs. Penn State
Jan. 2, 2016 (5:00 PM ET) at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA.
(Get the scoop on the Russell Athletic Bowl.)
USC has won three-times as many Rose Bowls as any other team (24). The next closest is Michigan with eight. Penn State has only appeared in the Rose Bowl three times, winning once in 1995.
A Closer Look at Penn State (11-2 SU, 8-4-1 ATS)
The 2017 Rose Bowl will be a traditional match-up of Big Ten and Pac-12 foes. Under the current system, we’re almost guaranteed not to get a Rose Bowl involving the conference champions, but this year is about as close as we’re going to get to the old system, thanks to Big Ten champ Penn State getting left out of the CFP.
The Nittanies conference title came as a massive surprise after their slow start to the year. The team dropped two of its first four games and it looked like the rebuilding project would continue for another season in Happy Valley. They haven’t lost since, rattling off nine straight, including a win over CFP-bound Ohio State.
They’re solid on both sides of the ball, but don’t do anything dominantly. On offense, the ground game is thoroughly mediocre (168.8 yards per game, 76th in the nation). The defense is stout, but has some vulnerability against the run, allowing over 150 yards per game on the ground, including an embarrassing 326 to Michigan in a 49-10 rout.
A Closer Look at USC (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS)
USC is roughly the statistical equal of Penn State. Each team averages between 430 and 470 yards of offense while allowing between 352 and 359 yards per game. Penn State scores 36.6 points per game, while USC puts up 32.9. The Trojans give up 22.2 points per contest, while the Lions allow 23.4.
The Trojans also had a remarkably similar season to the Nittanies. They also stumbled out of the gate, losing three of four, before making a switch at QB which completely altered their trajectory. Like Penn State, they also own a win over a top-four team, handing Washington its only loss of the season on the road in Seattle (26-13).
While switching to Sam Darnold at QB has made USC’s aerial attack much more potent, they boast a balanced offense that sits 38th in the nation in both passing and rushing. They can beat you in multiple ways.
Who Should You Back?
The big difference in this one is focus. Penn State has already exceeded expectations and accomplished its goals. Tens of thousands of PSU supporters will travel to Southern California to celebrate the moment. They’ll be wearing brand new “Big Ten Champs” tee-shirts and will be ecstatic to see their team play in the “Granddaddy of Them All” for the first time since 2009 (also against USC). The players and the university are feeling good about the fact that PSU football is back on the map. They’re currently focused on what they’ve already done.
On the other hand, USC hasn’t won anything and the Rose Bowl is still a pretty sweet prize for a group of kids from Southern California. Los Angeles loves winners and the legacy of this team depends on this result. It’s a squad which is focused on a January 2nd win.
USC also enjoys an on-field advantage which will become obvious with a lead. The Trojans have the ability to take over games with their rushing attack. As mentioned, Penn State can be gotten to on the ground. The Trojans should be able to find consistent holes in the PSU defense.
The game opened at USC -6.5 but was quickly bet up to -7. It’s a good idea to bet the Trojans sooner rather than later to avoid laying 7.5. PSU is traveling 2,500 miles west as a reward for a great season. USC is traveling 15 miles north to win.
Photo credit: Bobak Ha’Eri (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.