Rose Bowl Game Preview

Dec. 31, 2016

No. 5 Penn State returns to the Rose Bowl and also makes its first trip to a California bowl for the first time since the 2008 season when the Nittany Lions take on No. 9 USC in the 103rd annual Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on Monday, Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. ET. The game will air on ESPN.

Big Ten Coach of the Year James Franklin guided the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten Championship with an 11-2 overall record and 8-1 Big Ten mark. It is Penn State's fourth Big Ten title (1994, 2005, 2008) and first outright crown since 1994. This will be Penn State's fourth appearance in the Rose Bowl Game, with the last time coming in the meeting against the Trojans in 2009. Penn State is 1-2 all-time in the Rose Bowl. The Lions made their first-ever bowl appearance in the Rose Bowl against USC in 1923, a 14-3 loss. Penn State did not return to the Rose Bowl against until 1995 when Ki-Jana Carter led the Nittany Lions to a 38-20 win over Oregon. Penn State is tied for fourth nationally with 28 bowl victories and No. 3 in bowl winning percentage with a 28-16-2 post-season record (63.0) among schools with at least 20 postseason appearances.

USC, which was ninth in the final CFP rankings, is 9-3 overall with a 7-2 mark in Pac-12 play. The Trojans have wins over Pac-12 Champion Washington and Pac-12 South Division winner Colorado. USC finished the regular season with a 45-27 win over Notre Dame. The Trojans, like the Nittany Lions have not lost since Oct. 1, having won eight consecutive games after starting the season 1-3. All three of Troy’s losses in 2016 have been to AP Top 25 teams away from home. USC has won nine of its past 12 bowl games, but last year the Trojans fell to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl, 23-21, on a Badgers’ late field goal. Overall, the Trojans own a 33-20 record in regular and postseason games it has played in the Rose Bowl Stadium, including most recently a 36-14 victory over UCLA last month on the Bruins’ home field. USC played the first-ever football game in the Rose Bowl Stadium, a 12-0 loss to California in 1922. Troy has a 24-8 mark (.750) in the Rose Bowl and has won 11 of its last 13 Rose Bowls.

The Nittany Lions and the Trojans will meet for their 10th all-time meeting and third in the Rose Bowl Game. The teams last met in the 2009 Rose Bowl Game, which USC won, 38-24. The trip marks Penn State's 47th all-time bowl appearance. Penn State is 24-13 all-time against current Pac-12 schools. 





Scoring Defense

Total Offense

Total Defense

Rushing Offense

Rushing Defense

Passing Offense

Passing Defense

Turnover Margin





















Penn State ranks third in the Big Ten passing (261.2), total yards (430.1) and scoring (36.7), as well as ninth in rushing (168.8). The rushing rank may surprise some as sophomore Saquon Barkley was dominant this year, having been named the Graham-George Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year. The unanimous first-team All-Conference pick, who shared the Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award as the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player, is second in the Big Ten and ranks 37th in FBS in all-purpose yards (128.15) and paces the Big Ten and ranks ninth in FBS in total touchdowns with 19. Barkley already sits 14th on Penn State’s career rushing yards list (2,378) and 14th in career rushing scores (23). Dual-threat quarterback Trace McSorley, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, leads the NCAA with a 16.31 yards-per-completion mark. He also leads the Big Ten and 14th nationally in passing yards (3,360). McSorley threw just five interceptions and completed 57.5 percent of his 358 passes on the year, making him the league’s most efficient passer with a rating of 156.6. He also broke the Penn State season passing record and passing touchdowns (25) record in the Big Ten Championship Game. McSorley has also added 352 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this year. Junior tight end Mike Gesicki leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally in receptions by a tight end (47), and he is also seventh nationally in receiving yards (668). Wideout Chris Godwin earned third-team All-Big Ten accolades following a junior season in which he eclipsed 2,000 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns for his career.

USC’s defense is third in the Pac-12 against the rush (133.7) and total yards allowed (359.0), fourth in scoring (22.2), and sixth in defending the pass (225.3). The unit has been dominant of late, however, holding six of its last eight opponents to their lowest point totals of the year, while also posting 20 sacks over the eight-game win streak. Troy’s defense has also held six teams under 100 rushing yards this season. In third-down conversion, USC’s opponents have only a 35.2 percent success rate, which could pose issues for Penn State, which ranks 121st nationally with a 32.1 percent clip on third down. Leading the way for USC is Jim Thorpe Award winner Adoree’ Jackson. The All-American junior cornerback and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year recorded four interceptions, 11 pass breakups, 51 tackles, including two for loss, and one fumble recovery on the year. Other standouts on the defensive side include linebackers Michael Hutchings, Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith, and tackles Rasheem Green and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu. Gustin is eighth in the Pac-12 with 12.0 tackles for loss and 10th with 5.5 sacks, while Green has 5.0 sacks on the year. Smith (6.6), Hutchings (5.3) and Gustin (5.3) also rank among the Pac-12’s top tacklers in stops per game.

On offense, USC ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in total yards (468.9), and sixth in rushing (207.3), passing (261.7) and scoring (32.9). The Trojans are led by Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year Sam Darnold, who finished the season with 2,633 passing yards and a school freshman record 26 touchdowns. He ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 219.4 passing yards per game and has completed 68.1 percent of his 313 passes with eight interceptions. His primary targets include senior Darreus Rogers and junior JuJu Smith-Schuster, who moved into fifth in school annals after hauling in 781 yards and nine touchdowns on 63 receptions. Running back Ronald Jones has been impressive of late. The sophomore scampered for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year, but has scored 10 of those TDs and put up four 100-yard rushing efforts over the last six games. A pair of All-Americans – senior tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler – lock down an offensive line that ranks sixth in the country with 0.92 sacks allowed per game.  

That protection will be quite the match for Penn State, which ranks 14th nationally with 3.00 sacks each time out. Overall, the Nittany Lions are fifth in the Big Ten in passing (198.5), sixth in total yards (352.0), and eighth against the rush (153.5) and in points allowed (23.4). Nationally speaking, Penn State is third with 8.6 tackles for loss per game, 15th in sacks, and 22nd in total defense. Safety Marcus Allen (101 tackles), linebacker Brandon Bell (87 tackles, 7.5 for loss) and defensive end Garrett Sickels (12.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks) headline the defense. Allen joined defensive end Evan Schwan and linebacker Jason Cabinda on the All-Big Ten Third Team, while Bell, defensive tackle Parker Cothren and cornerback John Reid were honorable mention picks. Koa Farmer, who replaces Manny Bowen at starting linebacker, has 27 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks on the season.

On special teams, Penn State boasts the nation’s most accurate kicker in 2016 Vlade Award winner Tyler Davis. In 2016, Davis was perfect on 55 PAT attempts and accurate on 91.7 percent (22-of-24) of field goal tries, with both of his failed conversions coming on blocks. His field goal accuracy percentage enters the Rose Bowl above the program single-season record of 83.3 percent. The first-team All-Conference selection also led the Big Ten in scoring with 121 points and ranks fourth all-time in single-season scoring in conference history. John Reid is third in the Big Ten in punt return yardage (7.5), while Miles Sanders is seventh in kickoff returns (21.1). Punter Blake Gillikin is third in the Big Ten with 42.1 yards per punt. USC shines on special teams with Adoree Jackson, who is third nationally in punt returns (15.9) and sixth in kickoff returns (30.5). He has scored four touchdowns on special teams this year, including two on punt returns and two on kickoffs. Jackson owns the USC career records for kickoff return yardage (2,045 yards) and returns (75), and also is fifth on USC's all-time punt return ladder (565 yards).  Placekicker Matt Boermeester has 40 touchbacks on the year and has made 15 field goals at a 75 percent clip.