USC Football Meets No. 23 Wisconsin In Holiday Bowl|
Dec. 23, 2015
USC, the Pac-12 South Division co-champion, makes a return trip to the Holiday Bowl, this year to face No. 23 Wisconsin of the Big Ten on ESPN. It has been nearly 50 years since the teams have played. The Trojans have won all 6 meetings against the Badgers, including a pair of Rose Bowls (the 1963 Rose Bowl is one of the most famous). USC has won its last 13 games against Big Ten teams, including victories in its last 8 bowl meetings versus the conference (Wisconsin, on the other hand, has struggled historically against Pac-12 members). Troy, one of the nation’s premier bowl teams, has won more than two-thirds of its 49 bowl appearances (including 8 of the past 9) and played in 13 different bowls. This is only the 12th time that the Trojans enter a bowl unranked. USC is the reigning Holiday Bowl champion, while Wisconsin (playing in its 27th bowl, including its 14th in a row) is making its first visit to the Holiday Bowl. This will be only the eighth time that USC has played a game in San Diego, which is just a 2-hour drive from Troy’s Los Angeles campus. USC has had nearly 70 lettermen in its history hail from San Diego, including Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen and All-American Cotton Warburton, and one famous Trojan alumnus was a noted news anchorman in the city. It’s the second of 3 consecutive USC games in NFL stadiums (and at a neutral site). USC has won 5 of its last 8 games since Clay Helton was named interim head coach in mid-October and then permanent head coach in late November. The Trojans, however, will be minus 4 fulltime coaches (3 on defense) who were released by Helton earlier this month. Helton’s philosophy of “run the ball, stop the run and win the turnover battle” has held up for all of his games, except the most recent. Unitas and Senior CLASS Award finalist QB Cody Kessler—the 2014 Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP—directs an offense that is in the national Top 20 in completion percentage and passing efficiency. He ranks in USC’s career Top 4 in TD passes, completions, passing yards and total offense (and is above Heisman recipient Matt Leinart’s school career records for completion percentage and interception rate). WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is in the Top 20 nationally in receiving yards, receiving TDs and receptions. TBs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II are closing in on 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Jones, among 15 USC true freshmen to have played in 2015 (6 have started and 2—ILB Cameron Smith and CB Iman Marshall—were Freshmen All-Americans), owns the USC frosh season rushing record formerly held by Heisman winner Charles White (Jones could be just the second Trojan first-year freshman to top the squad in rushing). USC’s defense has been winning the turnover battle, is 15th in the nation in sacks and has 5 defensive scores this year. The defense is led by OLB Su’a Cravens and 3-way star CB-WR-RET Adoree’ Jackson (the only player in the country with 300 yards receiving, 600 yards in kick runbacks, 200 punt return yards and 30 tackles), a Hornung Award finalist who has scored TDs in his career via reception, interception, kick return and punt return. Under first-year head coach Paul Chryst, Wisconsin’s 2015 blemishes have been narrow home losses to Iowa and Northwestern and a season-opening defeat at Alabama (USC’s 2016 season opening opponent). The Badgers feature a stout defense; they are first nationally in scoring defense (allowing only 13 points a game), second in pass efficiency defense, third in total defense, fourth in rushing defense and sixth in pass defense. UW has held 7 of its opponents to under 100 rushing yards and 6 foes to 10 points or less. All-American first team OLB Joe Schobert, the 2015 Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, is in the national Top 15 in forced fumbles, tackles for loss and sacks. He is joined in the defensive effort by the likes of ILB T.J. Edwards, OLB Vince Biegel, SS Michael Caputo and FS/WR Tanner McEvoy, a 2-way player whose 6 interceptions is eighth nationally. Wisconsin’s offense is led by QB Joel Stave, who has guided the Badgers to 30 wins in his career and is second in school history in career passing yards, TD passes, completions and attempts. His main target is WR Alex Erickson (72 receptions in 2015 and 136 in his career). RB Dare Ogunbowale is the Badgers’ top rusher.