By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicks off Dec. 19, with 34 games being played in a three-week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their seasons on the winning side in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwards.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 34 games that lie ahead and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Emerald Bowl, Dec. 26, 8:00 PM, San Francisco, CA
No. 24 University of Southern California (8-4) vs. Boston College (8-4)
Despite having a true freshman at QB, the stakes and expectations were still high for a USC team that has owned the better part of this decade. Even after a week three upset to Washington, the Trojans still had solid BCS hopes, defeating ranked teams such as Ohio State, California, and Notre Dame.
Then the wall hit. USC lost three of its next five games, all to Pac-10 opponents, to fall completely off the BCS radar and be relegated to the Emerald Bowl.
For a team that had finished second nationally in defense the past two seasons, this year's squad was a far cry from that. After losing a number of players, including their entire linebackers corps to the NFL draft, the Trojans were 43rd in defense (342.83 yards per game).
Leading the team was senior safety Taylor Mays, with 91 tackles and one interception. No other player on the team had 70 or more tackles. However, USC does get pressure, finishing 16th in NCAA FBS in tackles for loss (7.08 per game) and 17th in sacks (2.75 per game).
The Trojans were also just mediocre on the offensive side of the game, finishing outside the top 30 in all major categories, including scoring (64th with 26.67 points per game). The lone bright spot was junior RB Joe McKnight, who finished with 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior RB Allen Bradford also contributed eight touchdowns and an 8.17 yard per carry average.
True freshman QB Matt Barkley shined early on in the season, including a 380-yard, two touchdown performance against Notre Dame. However, he faded down the stretch, throwing for under 200 yards in four of his last five games. In that same five-game period, he threw seven of his 12 interceptions.
USC's plan has to be allowing McKnight to run the offense, with Barkley managing, and using the QB pressure to force turnovers, allowing for a short field.
About Boston College
The Eagles weren’t given much hope, picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division behind such teams as Florida State and Wake Forest. However, behind a rookie coach in Frank Spaziani and the raucous cheering of LB Mark Herzlich (out for the season while battling cancer), Boston College made some heads turn.
Conference losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech hurt, but heading into the end of the season, the Eagles still had a chance. That shot was gone with a loss to North Carolina, but Boston College still ended their season as a team no one expected to be here.
The Eagles struggle offensively, falling into the bottom half of most offensive categories. They too have a true freshman QB leading the way, except theirs is 25 years old. Former minor league baseball player Dave Shinskie took the reins from freshman Justin Tuggle during the Wake Forest game and has held on to the spot ever since.
His numbers aren’t spectacular (1,823 yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions), and they reflect the struggles the offense has. The lone bright spot comes from sophomore Montel Harris, who rushed for 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, not many expected Boston College to challenge, with the losses of Herzlich and DT B.J. Raji, now in the NFL. Instead, the Eagles were 15th in rushing yards allowed, giving up only 104.42 yards a game. The defense also held opponents to only 19.42 points a game, 18th in NCAA FBS.
True freshman Luke Kuechly, filling in for the injured Herzlich, played like a man possessed all season long. His 142 tackles (12.5 for loss), sack, and interception were good enough to name him ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. No other defender came within half of his tackles.
For Boston College to win, they will have to rely on their defense, especially the run defense, and force USC to use Barkley to make decisions instead of game managing.
USC is 31-16 in their storied bowl history, currently in a three-game winning streak within their nine straight bowl appearances. However, this is the first time since 2002 they are not playing in a BCS bowl game.
Boston College is 13-7 in bowl games, riding an 11-game appearance. Last year's loss to Vanderbilt snapped an eight-game bowl winning streak.
USC is currently 2-0 against Boston College, playing a home-and-home back in 1987 and 1988.
The game’s ultimate matchup is going to be McKnight vs. Kuechly within the USC offense vs. Boston College defense. However, Bradford could play a spoiler in that matchup, and with both USC RBs having speed to go side to side, Boston College could have some trouble keeping them within the tackles and limiting their yards. Both teams need to keep their QBs from turnovers and questionable throws.
USC will use their defensive pressure to get to Shinskie and Harris, and with the weapons they do possess on offense, they should get enough out of Barkley for the win, 35-21.