Rose Bowl Breakdown: USC's D will stifle Penn State's Spread HD
This is a dream matchup in the coaching department: Pete Carroll vs. Joe Paterno
Penn State is looking to regain some national respect for the Big Ten
USC's defense may go down as one of the greatest of all time
It may be nicknamed "The Granddaddy of Them All," but if you had asked USC and Penn State during the season what they thought about playing in the Rose Bowl, they might have responded with the same sigh and shrug you'd get from a college student being forced to spend New Year's Eve with his grandparents in Pasadena instead of partying at a club on South Beach. Both of these teams had aspirations of playing in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami next week, but a pair of upset losses on the road to unranked teams by a combined seven points have led them to the Rose Bowl. If they don't seem too thrilled about it now, ask them how they'd feel about a rematch next year, when the national championship game returns to Pasadena.
Three Things You Should Care About
1. Carroll vs. Paterno. In a sport where players come and go every year and programs are built around the strength of their head coaches, few, if any, are as recognizable and respected as Pete Carroll and Joe Paterno. It's the first meeting between Carroll and Paterno and the first meeting between both teams in the Rose Bowl since 1923. Paterno, 82, holds the record for most victories (383) by an FBS football coach and also has more bowl wins (23) and more FBS undefeated seasons (five) than any other coach in college football history. Carroll, 57, is the nation's winningest active coach and has led USC to seven consecutive BCS bowls, Pac-10 titles and 11-win seasons (all records).
They may both have a penchant for winning, but their styles are as strikingly different as the fall weather in Los Angeles and Happy Valley. While Carroll slings passes to receivers after practice, jumps up and down on the sideline and talks the media's ears off, Paterno takes in practice from a distance, has been forced to watch games this season from the press box with a bad hip and spends as little time with the media as he's allowed to. It's the epitome of new school vs. old school.
2. Will the Big Ten play big? While USC may have been ranked No. 1 and penciled in by many to play for the national championship after beating Ohio State, nobody wanted to see Penn State play in that game. In fact, most outside of Happy Valley hoped Penn State would lose to Ohio State late in the season so both teams would be out of national title contention. Not because the Nittany Lions didn't deserve to be in the mix, but because they play in the Big Ten, which might as well be the Big Sky as far as pundits are concerned once the BCS rolls around. Blowout losses by Ohio State (twice in the BCS title game), Michigan and Illinois (both in the Rose Bowl to USC) have soured most on the once-proud conference. In fact, the Big Ten hasn't won the Rose Bowl since 2000.
Despite being one point away from an undefeated season, Penn State opened as a 10-point underdog to USC, which lost to Oregon State 27-21, a team Penn State beat by 31 points. Penn State may only be concerned about itself, but a win against USC, which has won eight straight against the Big Ten by an average of 25 points, would certainly help the Big Ten regain some of the national respect that has been eroding quickly over the past two seasons.
3. All-time defense. If USC is able to shut down Penn State's Spread HD offense, it may go down as the greatest defense in college football's modern era. Many questioned the opposition the Trojans faced this season, but considering the Pac-10's early success in bowl games and Notre Dame's 49-21 win in the Hawaii Bowl, the Trojans' mind-boggling defensive statistics become even more impressive. USC's defense is holding its opposition to 206 yards per game and 7.75 points per game, allowing a touchdown or less in eight games. Following a first-half hiccup against Oregon State in its third game of the season, USC has given up seven touchdowns in its last 9 1/2 games, with three of those scores coming on a short field after a turnover by the offense. Just as impressive is that they have allowed 22 total points in the second half this season. In an era when college football offenses routinely score over 40 points and tally over 400 yards, this defense's absolute domination is more impressive than anything the Trojans have ever done on offense, even when Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart were under center.