Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. USC Prediction Roundtable

How will things work out in the Rose Bowl on January 2?

When the Rose Bowl kicks off on January 2 two of the hottest teams in college football will take the field together. The Penn State Nittany Lions are riding a nine-game win streak, while the USC Trojans have won eight consecutive games.

Penn State is coming off a comeback win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and will look to carry the momentum to Pasadena.

Both teams feature young, exciting quarterbacks that lead potent offenses.

Although the Nittany Lions are underdogs and playing against USC in a virtual home game for the Trojans, anything can happen when the game kicks off. See the VBR staff predictions for the Granddaddy of Them All.

Site Expert Barry Leonard Jr. 

The Rose Bowl presents a very intriguing matchup between tow teams playing their best football of the season. Both Penn State and USC were able to overcome early season losses and now enter the game as two of the hottest teams in the country.

I fully expect a slow start from the Nittany Lions in this one — it’s happened almost every week — especially with this game being played in USC’s back yard. However, Penn State has been a second half team, so there’s no reason to think that will change.

It’s all about the play of quarterback Trace McSorley. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and leads a very potent offense. Saquon Barkley will likely draw most of the attention from the defense, allowing McSorley to make some big plays. I’m looking for another big day from tight end Mike Gesicki.

Penn State’s key will be the play of its defense. Missing Manny Bowen at linebacker will hurt, but SoCal native Koa Farmer has a chance to play a big role. USC quarterback Sam Darnold has had an excellent season and can certainly make some big plays.

If the Nittany Lions want to win this one, they are going to need to shut down the Trojan rushing attack. Running back Ronald Jones went for over 1,000 yards this sedan and is a big key to the offense.

Again, a slow start should be expected, but don’t panic. McSorley and the downfield passing attack, even without Saeed Blacknall, will be too much for the Trojans to handle in the end. While both teams should be able to put up some big numbers, it will be  Penn State leaving Pasadena with a victory.

Penn State 41
USC 35

Contributor Marty Leap 

The magical ride that has been the 2016 Penn State Football season has culminated in a trip to the Rose Bowl. This is a game that fans of college football have to salivating over. The Nittany Lions will do battle with the USC Trojans in a battle of two college football blue bloods. Additionally, the Nittany Lions and Trojans are two of the hottest teams in the country right now.

Adding to the excitement around this game is that it will feature four of the top preseason favorites for the Heisman Trophy in 2017. These four players are Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, as well as USC quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones.

Much like Penn State, USC has a very dynamic offense. Ever since becoming the starter in week 4 Sam Darnold has been excellent. The redshirt freshman has completed 68.1 percent of his passes this season for 2,633 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just 8 interceptions. His favorite target is JuJu Smith-Schuster would has hauled in 63 balls for 781 yards this season.

Ronald Jones leads the Trojans in rushing yards with 1,027 yards. He has also run for 11 touchdowns this season. In my opinion, the key for Penn State’s defense will be stopping Jones. The defensive line and linebackers will need to step up to do this. Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will both have to have big games on January 2nd.

USC’s defensive line has an advantage over Penn State’s still banged up offensive line. However, the legs and play making ability of Trace McSorley will help to offset this. And the Trojan secondary can be exploited by receivers such as Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Plus, Mike Gesicki is always a match up nightmare.

This will be a close, hotly contested game. Personally, I think it has the potential to be one of the best games of the bowl season. This is one I can see going either way, however, I can not pick against the Nittany Lions right now. Trace McSorley leads a late scoring drive and the Nittany Lions finish the season at 12-2 winners of 10 straight.

Penn State 31
USC 28

Contributor Shane Lunnen

The Rose Bowl is finally here in what should be a great game between two of the hottest teams in all of college football. Both USC and Penn State have not lost since September, so something will have to give in the Granddaddy of Them All.

The Lions will need to remain balanced on offense in this one. Trace McSorley loves to throw the deep ball and will have his opportunities, especially against a USC secondary that can be vulnerable.  However Penn State must get the running game going as well.  If the Lions can’t block for Saquon Barkley, the Trojans can pin their ears back to get after McSorley and possibly force mistakes.

Over on the defensive side, Penn State ranks tenth in the nation for total team sacks at 39, but USC’s fantastic freshman quarterback Sam Darnold has been sacked only five times all season, much of the credit going to his superb offensive line. The Lions front seven must bring pressure and get to Darnold. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry has not been afraid to bring the blitz this season, so we should expect a similar game plan against the Trojans.

Penn State is listed as a seven-point underdogs and the pundits are mainly picking USC after doubting the Lions for most of the year. Penn State has had a fantastic year win or lose, but I think they have one more great game left in them.

With a signature second half comeback, McSorley guides the Lions to a victory, capping off a 12 win season with a Rose Bowl championship.

Penn State 34
USC 30

Contributor Corey Hunter

Penn State enters the Rose Bowl riding a nine-game win streak, which includes beating previously unbeaten Ohio State and winning the Big Ten conference title over Wisconsin.

USC is also riding a solid eight-game win streak. While they didn’t win the PAC-12 title, they are one of the nation’s hottest teams.

The Trojans have a myriad of ways they can beat you. They have the strong arm of quarterback Sam Darnold, the quick legs of running back Ronald Jones, the pass catching ability of JuJu Smith-Schuster, or the athletic defensive plays of defensive back Adoree Jackson.

For their part, Penn State has a number of weapons as well. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley have paced the Lions offensively. On defense, players like Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda, and Marcus Allen have helped control opposing offenses.

It’s no wonder that this game is being billed as perhaps the biggest game outside of the CFP.

There are a couple areas where this game could turn. USC was one of the worst teams in the PAC-12 at giving up chunk plays (plays of 20 yards or more). Penn State was one of the best in the Big Ten at getting chunk plays. I think the Nittany Lions can exploit this area, despite losing receiver Saeed Blacknall to suspension.

Finally, Penn State has had a nasty, but effective, habit of making significant halftime adjustments in order to win a game. I think the same will be required to win the Rose Bowl.

I’m disappointed by how little the Vegas oddsmakers believe in the Nittany Lions. At the end of the day, however, I believe that the will of the Nittany Lions to never give up or give in, will allow head coach James Franklin to lift the Rose Bowl trophy.

Penn State – 31
USC – 27

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