USC Trojans (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2 SU, 9-3 ATS)
Date/Time: Monday, January 2, 2017 at 5PM EST
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: USC -6.5/PSU +6.5
Over/Under Total: 60.5
The USC Trojans and Penn State Nittany Lions face each other in the Rose Bowl on January 2 from Pasadena. If teams were judged on how well they ended the season, USC and Penn State would be at the top of the list—a pair of the hottest teams in the country. USC reversed form dramatically after a ragged 1-3 start, winning eight in a row to get to this spot. Their last game was back on November 26—a 45-27 win over Notre Dame. The Nittany Lions started 2-2 and have since won 9 in a row, including a December 3rd win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, 38-31. This should be a good one.
Penn State is undoubtedly a quality bunch, back on the right track with head coach James Franklin. They came back from a 28-7 deficit to beat the Badgers in the title game and have laid most of their opponents to waste this season with ease. After losing in their fourth game to Michigan, 49-10, they seemed destined for Big Ten also-ran status. But a win over Ohio State showed they meant business and with 9 wins to end the season, they are in as good a form as anyone in the country. Their defense became better as the season carried on and while leaky against Wisconsin, they showed their clutch in tightening up and allowing the offense to stage the comeback win. And speaking of the offense, it's gotten better over the course of the season, a consistent and balanced group that can really put up points in a hurry.
The Nittany Lions offense is chock-full of top talent, fortified by a front that has done its job. QB Trace McSorley has shown skill and gumption this year and has 25 passing touchdowns against only 5 interceptions on 3360 yards passing. He has also run in 6 scores. In addition, he has made good use of solid cast of weapons. On the ground, they rely on Saquon Barkley, who has run for over 1300 yards with 19 touchdowns. Aerially, McSorley depends on Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins, and Saeed Blacknall. In their last 6 games, they've been averaging 45 points a game.
Against Wisconsin, we saw what the Penn State defense was made of. Exploited at points en route to a 28-7 Badgers lead, the Nittany Lions "D" hung in there, figured it out, and was thriving late in the game. Wisconsin could only manage a field goal in the second half of the game and that was while committing no turnovers and just a few penalties. They have held up against some good offenses this season after starting the season not looking great in their losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan. They can get after the passer and no offense has embarrassed them since that loss to Michigan, which now seems so long ago.
While Penn State deserves a lot of adulation, it shouldn't detract from what Southern Cal were able to do this season. Rough-looking after a 1-3 start that included a 46-point loss to Alabama and a hammering to Stanford, the Trojans made a change at quarterback and it seemed like the whole team took off on both sides of the ball. Like Penn State, USC holds a win over a team in the College Football Playoff, being the only team to beat Washington this season. Southern California also beat Utah and Colorado. Week after week, they smoked Pac-12 teams and after they beat Washington, it might have been fair to say they were among the better teams in the country.
Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold was a huge key this season, with his passing acumen and overall positive vibe turning the offense around in a big way. The aerial attack took flight, with Darnold connecting with big talent like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, and Deontay Burnett. Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe caught four touchdown passes. Darnold woke the whole offense up, with the run game coming around, as well. Ronald Jones ended the season with some huge games and went over 1000 yards on the season. Justin Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware also delivered on the ground and by the end of the season, the Trojans offense was an explosive and balanced one. And it doesn't hurt to have special teams that can do damage, with Adoree Jackson scoring 4 touchdowns on returns.
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As the offense ascended for the Trojans, so did the defense. A group that looked out-of-sorts to begin the season was suddenly playing with an edge, giving the offense more than enough room with which to work. Starting in October, no Pac-12 team managed more than 24 points against the Trojans—not bad considering how many offensively-gifted teams they faced. Division champions Colorado and Washington scored a combined 30 points against this group. Getting after quarterbacks were Porter Gustin, Michael Hutchings, and Rasheem Green. Corners Iman Marshall and Adoree Jackson made plays in the secondary. They've really come around over the course of this season.
This is not easy, as both teams are looking to finish strongly after working so hard to get things turned around. A month into the season, the odds would have been long that you'd see these two teams in this spot. So one needs to acknowledge the character and grit both squads showed just in getting here. USC certainly has an edge with the locale of the game being so close to home. While it's tempting to take points with a hot Penn State bunch, they won't be able to come back if they get down against this group and I see the Trojans being a little too multi-dimensional across all three phases of the game. I'm taking the Trojans.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the USC Trojans minus 6.5 points. Did you know... that you could be wagering on the Trojans vs. Nittany Lions Rose Bowl game from your own home at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying -110 odds (or more) with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!