2009 Rose Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/26/2008
No. 4 USC vs. No. 6 Penn State
Conference Matchup: Pac-10 vs. Big 10
Date: 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 1
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Odds: USC -9.5; Total 45.0
The Rose Bowl. It's a staple of the season, like questionable New Year's Eve decisions and the inevitable regret-filled New Year's Day hangover. And this season's Rose Bowl promises to be yet another classic clash between the boys from the Big Ten and the champs of the proud Pac-10.
But, like your "promise" to yourself that this will be the year that you get back in shape, can this year's (which, is technically next year's, since kickoff is 2009; but whatever) tilt between Penn State and USC live up to the expectations?
Both the Trojans and Nittany Lions harbored serious national championship consideration for a majority of this season. However, the evil robots deemed them unworthy suitors for the crystal orb so now these powerhouses are "relegated" to a separate corner of the BCS globe. As a result, we'll be treated to one of the best matchups on the bowl board and what will likely be one of the most bet games of the season.
You don't have to be Einstein to calculate the simplest handicapping equation for this game: USC + Big Ten = blowout win. In September the Trojans beat Ohio State by 32. Last January in the Rose Bowl they hammered Illinois by 32. In the 2007 Rose Bowl they topped Michigan by 14 in a game that wasn't that close. That's three blowout wins in the last two years against the best that the Big Ten had to offer.
But I don't think this matchup is that simple. This year's Ohio State team was a shell of the club that lost two straight national title games. Illinois was a joke last year and wasn't even the Big Ten winner. And Michigan was A) overrated and B) in a prime letdown spot after their epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash with Ohio State. By contrast, this Penn State team enters this game a little under the radar and with much less fanfare than those previous games.
Further, I know that the "common opponent comparison" game can be dangerous but both teams played Oregon State with opposite results. The Trojans were beaten soundly, 27-21, in Corvallis for their only conference loss. Penn State did have the advantage of playing the Beavers in Happy Valley, but two weeks prior they had destroyed Oregon State, 45-14, in a game in which most of their defensive line was suspended.
While I don't think that their forays against the Beavers are an end-all, I do think that it's a fitting counter to the oversimplified idea that the Pac-10 owns the Big Ten. I'm as big of a Big Ten Basher as you will find anywhere in the country, but I will absolutely say that it was a much stronger conference, top to bottom, that the feeble Pac-10.
There are three key factors in this game as to why Penn State can have more success than their conference predecessors. First, they can score. Penn State runs the spread offense and they run it as well as any team in the country. They can pound the ball on the ground with Evan Royster (1,202 yards rushing, 12 TDs) or they can attack in the air with Daryll Clark (2,172 yards). They are 14th in yards gained and 11th in scoring. This team also hung 48 points on Wisconsin in Madison and 49 on Michigan State at home, on top of the 45 they put on Oregon State. That makes them much more explosive than any of the other Big Ten wannabes.
Second, they can hold up at the point of attack on defense. Penn State's defensive line is as strong as any in the nation. The Lions are No. 5 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense, allowing just 12.4 points per game. They are well-rounded and only surrendered 11.2 points per game on the road this season.
Third, they are heavily underrated and facing a USC team that is overrated. The Pac-10 stunk this year. And the USC defense, which some are trying to crown as one of the best of all time, fattened up against absolutely pathetic competition (Washington State, UCLA, Washington), against teams that didn't have a quarterback (Oregon, Stanford) or teams that had injured quarterbacks (Arizona State, UCLA). This Penn State offense will be the best they've seen all year and I don't think the Trojans will completely shut them down the way some people think.
So that's why I think that Penn State can make this a game. But maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe USC is just going to kick the hell out of the Nittany Lions because the Trojans are from the Pac-10 and the Lions are from the Big Ten.