Rose Bowl Preview: USC vs. Penn State

The Penn State Nittany Lions and the USC Trojans meet in the Rose Bowl on January 2.
Publish date:

On January 2, the ninth-ranked USC Trojans will face off against the fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in the 103rd Rose Bowl. This historic bowl game, first played in 1902, will take place in Pasadena, California. Both teams struggled to win games at the beginning of the season, but both improved and are coming into the game on hot streaks. USC ended the regular season with a 9–3 record, and Penn State is 11–2. This competitive bowl game, which airs at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN, is sure to be exciting to watch.

The Trojans began the season with a 1–3 record, with fans on social media and sports talk shows calling for coach Clay Helton to be fired. In order to create a spark in the offense, starting quarterback Max Browne was replaced with redshirt freshman Sam Darnold in their fourth game, against the Utah Utes.

USC lost in a close game, but the team was making noticeable improvements. The Trojans then turned the season around by winning every game after that, including an upset win against the undefeated fourth-ranked Washington Huskies on the road. USC then finished the year with wins against its two rivals: the UCLA Bruins and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Trojans are strong on both offense and defense. On offense, the line has been a crucial part of the team, only allowing 11 sacks during this season, the least amount of sacks allowed at USC since 2001.

The offensive line is anchored by two 2016 All-America tackles, Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner. The protection has allowed Darnold to pass for 2,633 yards and 26 touchdowns. The leading wide receiver for USC is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who gained 781 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

The offensive line also opened many holes for a very potent running game led by Ronald Jones II. Jones ran for 1,027 yards on the season and scored 11 touchdowns.

On defense, Adoree’ Jackson, stands out as a key player. Jackson was named this year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner, given to the best defensive back in college football. Jackson also stood out on special teams, as he is a dynamic kick returner. He scored two touchdowns on punt returns and two on kickoff returns.


The Nittany Lions began their season with a 2–2 record, with their fans also chanting at games to have coach James Franklin fired. However, Penn State rebounded and won in overtime against Minnesota in the fifth game.

This was the start of the turnaround for the Nittany Lions’ season, as they won nine games in a row—including an upset win over the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes and a win over the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten title game.

After Penn State won the conference championship, there were many college football analysts who felt that the team deserved to be in the College Football Playoff. Despite not making it to the Playoff, Franklin has stated that his players do not feel let down and are all excited to be playing in the Rose Bowl.

A dynamic player on the Penn State offense is running back Saquon Barkley, who was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Barkley has rushed for 1,302 yards this year, making him a valuable asset to the running game.

Another key player is redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley, who has had a record-breaking season. This year, he set the school mark for most single-season passing yards (3,360) and passing touchdowns (25). In addition, during the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, McSorley led the team from a three-touchdown deficit to a 38–31 victory. In the game, he set the conference record for the most passing yards (384 yards) and touchdowns (four) in a Big Ten title game, and he was named the game’s MVP.

Penn State’s top receivers include Chris Godwin (795 yards, nine touchdowns), and tight end Mike Gesiciki (668 yards, four touchdowns).

On defense, the Nittany Lions are led by defensive end Garrett Sickels. Sickels was named Most Valuable Defensive Player at the team’s end-of-season award banquet. Fellow defensive end Evan Schwan also stood out. Both Sickels and Schwan led the team in sacks with six each. As a team, the defensive recorded an impressive 39 sacks and 112 tackles for loss during the season.

There are some college football analysts who are calling the Rose Bowl one of the “must watch” bowl games of the year because of the way both teams ended the season so strongly. Be sure to tune in to watch this exciting game between two traditional powerhouse football teams. But before you do, here are some fun facts about the game known as the Granddaddy of Them All.

The two head coaches, Clay Helton and James Franklin, began the year with fans calling for them to be fired. Now at the end of the season, both coaches are among nine finalists for the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award. The award will be announced on January 11.

The Rose Bowl is often referred to as the Granddaddy of Them All. This is because the Rose Bowl is the oldest bowl game. The first one took place in 1902 between the University of Michigan and Stanford University. Michigan won the game 49–0.

The Rose Bowl game is traditionally played on January 1, unless the day falls on a Sunday. In that case, such as in 2017, the game is played on January 2. Historians note that the “never on Sunday” tradition is due to officials not wanting to frighten the horses that would be outside of churches. Even though this is no longer an issue, the tradition remains.

USC is located approximately 15 miles from the Rose Bowl stadium. While USC plays its home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, many USC fans refer to the Rose Bowl stadium as their “home away from home” because of their frequent appearances in the Rose Bowl. This year will be USC’s 33rd appearance in the game.

This will be the third Rose Bowl game between USC and Penn State. USC won the previous two games. In 1923, USC beat Penn State 14–3, and in 2009, USC beat Penn State 38–24.

Photographs by (from top) Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images; Joe Robbins/Getty Images