USC vs. Georgia Tech: Sun Bowl Breakdown
USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7)
Dec. 31, 2:00 p.m. ET (CBS)
• Reason to watch: To catch the unheralded end to USC's underwhelming season. When the preseason rankings were unveiled in August, the Trojans were riding high: They were ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and were considered a serious national-title contender. But over the course of the next three months, things went decidedly south. USC dropped an early contest at Stanford before losing four of its final five games to close out the year. Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Marqise Lee (2,588 all-purpose yards) and defensive end Morgan Breslin (12 sacks) have been bright spots in an otherwise dark year in Los Angeles. For Georgia Tech, this game is another chance to snap coach Paul Johnson's bowl-game losing streak. The Yellow Jackets are 0-4 in postseason contests under Johnson, with most recent defeat coming via a 30-27 overtime heartbreaker to Utah in last year's Sun Bowl.
• Keep an eye on: USC's man under center. When UCLA's Anthony Barr sacked quarterback Matt Barkley in the teams' Nov. 17 showdown, it did more than end the Trojans' Pac-12 South reign -- it also brought an end to Barkley's collegiate career. USC's four-year starter missed the season finale against Notre Dame with a sprained shoulder and has been ruled out of Monday's contest. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek will take his place; Wittek went 14-of-23 with one touchdown and two interceptions in the Trojans' season-ending loss to the Irish. Also, keep an eye on Georgia Tech's triple-option-powered running game. The Orwin Smith and Tevin Washington-led attack averaged 312.5 rushing yards per game, fourth in the FBS, and could find success against a USC defense that ranked 59th nationally against the run.
• Did you know: USC arrived 90 minutes late to a Sun Bowl dinner with Georgia Tech on Dec. 26, the most recent gaffe for a team that's also been wrapped up in jersey-switch and deflated-ball controversies. Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde reported that a late flight was to blame for the incident, but the Yellow Jackets were unhappy nonetheless. Johnson's team left the event before USC ever showed up.
• Final analysis: Lane Kiffin's team has underachieved all year, and it struggled mightily as the season wound to a close. But there's no getting around it: The Trojans simply have far more talent than the Yellow Jackets do. Wittek and Lee will exploit Georgia Tech's porous secondary (ranked 80th in the nation in pass efficiency defense), and USC running back Curtis McNeal will build off his strong finish to the season, when he rushed for 160-plus yards in two of his final three games. After a two-year postseason ban, the Trojans will cruise to victory in their return to a bowl.
• The pick: USC 38, Georgia Tech 17