2008 Rose Bowl Preview: Who Has The Edge?

Anthony EliasCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2008

The 2008 Rose Bowl will be the only BCS bowl game to feature two one loss conference champions play head to head besides the National Title Game. So naturally this game will function as a sort of "semifinal" in which the winner can make a case that they deserve to play the winner of the title game for the real title in a plus one format.

But that's another story for another day...

So Penn State and USC will face off in the 95th Rose Bowl.

Great. Another Big Ten team sent to their execution in sunny Pasadena?

Wrong. Or at least, the facts show otherwise.

Before breaking down this match up, it is essential to analyze the reason for this "Big 10 is going to get blown out" stigma in the Rose Bowl.

The Big 10's record in this game against a Pac-10 opponent since 2000 is a lowly 1-3.

The lone victory in this decade game came against Stanford.

Wisconsin beat them 17-9 in 2000.

The other three games between the Pac-10 and the Big 10 in this game have been USC vs. Michigan twice, and once Illinois.

The combined scores of those games?


UM & Ill.-49

So chalk up this decade to USC in particular when it comes to the traditional Big 10 vs. Pac-10 match up in this game.

While Penn State can not even bring the Big 10's record to .500 vs. USC in the Rose Bowl this decade with a win on New Year's Day, they would go a far way towards healing that stigma.

Without further ado, the preview:


Penn State

Joe Paterno has two National Titles, five Undefeated Seasons, 383 wins, 23 Bowl Victories, and is the only coach to win all four BCS Bowl Games (Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange).

It is an inspiring resume.

Combine that with Galen Hall, Tom Bradley, and Jay Paterno, and you have one hell of a staff. Penn State's coaches have been flawless all year, except for a couple of bad calls in the red zone against Iowa.

And even with the blunders, it took a last second field goal to top Penn State by one point.


Pete Carroll has two National Titles, an 85.3 percent Winning Percentage, and is 5-2 in bowl games. He's only been coaching for seven years or so.

And his offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is great as well, but will be leaving to go to Washington next season, which could or might be a distraction.

Nick Holt on D...need I say more or did USC's D speak for itself?

Advantage: Penn State

How can you go against such a consistent staff such as Penn State's? Especially with Joe Paterno. The legend gets the nod here, but when it comes to the Rose Bowl, Carroll definitely knows a thing or two about how to win one of these for sure.

The thing that hurt USC in my eyes was the whole Sarkisian situation possibly becoming a distraction.


Penn State

Spread HD. Two words that struck some fear into many teams this season.

Daryl Clark passing to a trio of wide receivers in Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, and Deon Butler that have combined for 121 catches, 1769 yards, and 15 touchdowns.

If he is not passing, he is handing it off to the 1-2 punch of Evan Royster and Stephfon Green who combined for 280 carries, 1723 yards, and 16 touchdowns. 

Pretty lethal. Not to mention Clark can run.

75 carries for 265 yards and 12 touchdowns.

And that offensive line?

The main reason this offensive unit has been averaging 40 points a game.


The Trojans have an amazing offense as usual with Mark Sanchez leading the attack.

They average 37 points per game.

The stable of running backs is effective as ever.

Between C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight, and Stafon Johnson, they have racked up 1892 yards on only 313 carries for an average of 6 yards per carry, and scored 19 touchdowns.

And how could we forget those wide receivers? The trio of Damien Williams, Patrick Turner, and Ronald Johnson have combined for some gaudy stats.

122 catches, 1862 yards, 24 touchdowns.

All behind a great offensive line that keeps Sanchez off the ground.

Advantage: TIE

I watched Penn State each and every week rip most teams to shreds with a balanced attack. 

USC's offense statistically is a bit better.

I have seen both teams struggle to move the ball in a couple of games, but they both have such balanced attacks. Daryl Clark's dangerous mobility, and the seniority of that PSU offensive line counters the slight statistical advantage that USC's running backs and receivers have.

Both teams are extremely talented at the skill positions, and they are about dead even in this category.


Penn State

One of the best units in the country ranked fifth in total defense allowing only 12.4 points per game.

Although dominating in many games, especially the 13-6 victory over No. 10 Ohio State in Columbus, they played a soft non-conference schedule which helped inflate their stats a bit.

Their highest points allowed in a game was 24, and that occurred twice. It is not shabby of course, but represented a more "bend don't break" mentality than dominating defense.

They have leadership, but it is young. Josh Hull, a walk on as a linebacker at Linebacker U?

He has come into his own, and leads a defense that had many injury issues, including Sean Lee's which put Hull on the field in the first place.

The strong spot on this defense is the defensive line. Although they do not have much depth, they are definitely strong, with Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines, Maurice Evans, and Jared Odrick.


You thought fifth was a good ranking?

Try first in the country in total defense.

Allowing how many points per game?

*Gulp* 7.8.

Yes folks that is under 10. That is under eight for crying out loud! Even with that admittedly tougher non-conference schedule.


They got it.

Award winning linebacker?

USC has him. His name is Rey Maualuga.

This 6'3" 250 pound Linebacker has terrorized the Pac-10 (although apparently so do Mountain West Conference teams these days) for much of his career at USC.

This year though, the man has played lights out, leading the Trojans with 66 tackles.  He has a knack for the big plays, and has two interceptions this year. 

Watch for yourself- Ray's Highlight Reel 

I could say a lot more about USC's defense. But they are so legendarily good that you have probably heard enough about them already.

Advantage: USC

Statistically they are close, both are in the top five.

But unlike in the offensive category where Penn State held an ace in the hole with Daryl Clark, USC has the advantage here in leadership with Ray Maualuga.

But let's not kid us ourselves.

Penn State's defense can hang.

USC's defense can hang anyone.

Special Teams

PSU leads in three of the four statistical categories of special teams.

But I don't look at that.

I look at what I call the scare factor...

If I am punting or kicking off...

Do I really want to let Derrick Williams (two kickoff return touchdowns, three punt return touchdowns) touch the ball?

USC has how many return touchdowns?


If I need a field goal, who would I go to?

David Buehler who is 8 for 12 this season...


Kevin Kelly,

A senior.

Penn State's all time leading scorer.

20-24 on FG attempts.

Kicked the game winning field goal in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

Advantage: PSU

Derrick Williams is a game breaker on special teams, and Kelly is a reliable kicker. All extremely important game changing assets.

Home-field Advantage: USC

Come on, they know the Rose Bowl better than UCLA. Penn State will travel well, but do not expect a White Out.

Final Prediction:

When the categories are tallied up, the results are:

PSU: 2.5 (Coaching {1}, Offense {.5}, Special Teams {1})

USC: 2.5 (Defense, {1}, Offense {.5}, Home Field {1})

I'm a Penn State fan. You do not want my opinion. I will not give it to you.

You have seen the numbers and explanations.

You decide in the comments.

Give us your score, and why!

And do not forget to tune into the 95th Rose Bowl presented by Citi on ABC on January 1, 2009 at 5:10 EST/ 2:10 PST!


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