USC faces Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on New Year’s Eve. While this may not be the BCS bowl the Trojans and their fans anticipated participating in back in August, it is the first bowl many of these team members will play in due to the two-year postseason ban.
One of the biggest questions facing this Trojans squad is not who their defensive coordinator will be moving into 2013, but whether beloved senior quarterback Matt Barkley will be medically cleared to play in his final game in the Cardinal and Gold.
Max Wittek will be USC’s quarterback of the future, but Barkley’s contribution to the USC and Pac-12 record books cannot be overlooked. The senior QB is the Pac-12 career leader in touchdowns with 116 and passing yardage with 12,327 yards.
This also could very well be wide receiver Robert Woods’ final game as a Trojan. Though a junior, Woods is free to enter the NFL draft, and I personally feel it would benefit him to do so. Expect Marqise Lee and Woods to put on their usual show in the Sun Bowl as these two all-world wideouts are as good as it gets.
Lee and Woods are no strangers to the USC record books themselves. Lee won the Biletnikoff Award this past week, becoming the first Trojan to do so. He also set the Pac-12 single season receptions record this season with 112 catches. Lee also has 14 touchdowns and 1,680 yards. He finished fourth in the final Heisman ballot. Woods, meanwhile, set the USC record this season for career receptions at 249.
With all that offensive firepower, it is hard to swallow USC’s 7-5 overall record and 5-4 mark in the Pac-12. But let us not forget the woeful state of the USC defense, from which not a single player was named to the All-Pac-12 first team.
The defense also allowed the most points (24.6 per game) and yardage (396 per game) ever by a Trojan team, prompting the resignation of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. T.J. McDonald and Wes Horton are two of the higher profile seniors on this defensive unit who will be making their last appearance as Trojan players.
On the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets side of the field, it should be noted that—like UCLA last year—Tech needed an NCAA bowl-eligibility waiver just to play in this game, following a regular season in which the Yellow Jackets compiled a record of only 6-7. If USC wins the Sun Bowl, the Yellow Jackets will be tied with UCLA for the worst ever record for a team participating in a bowl game.
Georgia Tech faced off in the ACC championship game against Florida State simply due to Miami’s self-imposed season ban (which in my opinion will not mitigate the NCAA firestorm brewing over the Hurricanes program). This is notable as another similarity to the 2011 situation in the Pac-12, with USC winning the South and UCLA backing into the inaugural conference championship game because of the Trojans postseason ineligibility.
Georgia Tech lost the ACC championship game to the Seminoles by a score of 21-15, after failing to produce on a final drive late in the fourth quarter that would have won the game. Yellow Jacket QB Tevin Washington threw an interception with roughly a minute left to play, ending Georgia Tech's hopes of an ACC championship and Orange Bowl bid.
An interesting coincidence between USC and Georgia Tech this season: Both teams enter this game not knowing who their defensive coordinator will be for the 2013 season. As mentioned earlier, Kiffin is coaching his final game for USC, and the Yellow Jackets fired their defensive coordinator, former Virginia head coach Al Groh, midway through the season. Charles Kelly is serving as Georgia Tech’s interim DC.
Georgia Tech will be seeking its first bowl win under head coach Paul Johnson, who has dropped four straight bowl games since taking over the program in 2008. This is the second straight appearance in the Sun Bowl for the Yellow Jackets who should not present much of a challenge for Lane Kiffin’s USC team.