Before the New Years Day’s bowls fill the schedule Tuesday, there’s some tasty matchups on Monday across the country as four bowl games fill the day. One of the bowls that will have plenty of attention is the mid-afternoon matchup of the pre-season #1 USC Trojans and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Sun Bowl. USC is back to bowling after a couple year’s of sanctions as they take on the ACC Coastal champion (and 6-7) Georgia Tech. It should be an interesting game on multiple levels as USC looks to build for the future and plenty of future NFL-players fill the field. Here’s a quick look at what to expect:
When to Watch: 2:00 PM Monday, December 31
Where to Watch: Live on CBS from the Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
What to Watch for
When Georgia Tech has the ball: Georgia Tech’s offense is far from balanced, but they’re good at what they do. They ranked 119th in the country in passing yards besting just five teams but were fourth in the nation in rushing yards behind only Oregon, Air Force, and Army. They finished the regular season in a three-way tie for the most rushing touchdowns with Oregon and Louisiana Tech.
The running attack is led by quarterback Tevin Washington who threw for just 1,173 yards and seven touchdowns but led the team with 19 rushing touchdowns to go with his 638 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets leading rusher on the season was Senior Orwin Smith who has averaged nine yards a carry while rushing for 673 yards and five touchdowns so far this season.
USC’s defense finished in the middle of the rankings in rushing defense but struggled down the stretch allowing 38 points or more in three of four games during their end of the season skid. Lane Kiffin’s dad, Monte Kiffin will be on the sidelines as defensive coordinator for the last time on Monday as he’s leaving the program after the season. Defensive end Leonard Williams is a player to watch after winning fresman defensive player of the year in the Pac-12 as a result of his 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Morgan Breslin, the defensive end opposite Williams, has 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss making the All-Pac-12 second team and being named a finalist for the 2012 Hendricks Award for the best defensive end of the year.
When USC has the ball: USC came into the season with a Heisman favorite at quarterback and a pair of dynamic wide receivers as well as a running back transfer from Penn State with high expectations. Unfortunately, the season didn’t unfold according to the Trojans script. Matt Barkley announced on twitter that he still has not been cleared to play which leaves freshman Max Wittek at the controls for USC. The extra practices have surely helped Wittek who has a cannon for an arm and made some nice plays in his collegiate debut in the Trojans finale against the tough Notre Dame defense.
The weapons Wittek has at his disposal are definitely formidable. Sophomore receiver Marqise Lee was the Pac-12 Offensive player of the year. Lee enters the game just behind Terrance Williams of Baylor in yards per game receiving and leading the country in receptions with 112. He caught 14 touchdowns on the year and is averaging 215.67 all-purpose yards per game. Lee is a special talent who is also vitally involved in the return game and is a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball. Across the field from him is Robert Woods who has 11 touchdowns of his own to go with 813 yards on 73 catches.
After transferring from Penn State, Silas Redd was unable to reach 1,000 yards but did lead the team with 817 yards and nine touchdowns. Redd could really help the Trojans balance their attack and take pressure off Wittek with a big game against the Georgia Tech defense.
The Yellow Jackets come in ranked 47th in the country against the rush and 69th against the pass, but allowed 30.0 points per game which ranked them 11th out of the 12 teams in the ACC. Defensive coordinator Al Groh was replaced in early October but the defense still allowed 50 points to North Carolina and 42 to Georgia as they went 3-2 coming down the stretch.
Who to Watch (NFL Prospects)
The big name is obviously Matt Barkley although he won’t be playing in this game. The USC quarterback hurt his draft stock a bit this season and has probably become the #2 quarterback picked after Geno Smith goes first overall. There’s still lots of time before the draft for that to change but his injury clouds the situation.
The other Trojans who could be drafted this year include receiver Robert Woods who would likely go in the late first or early second round if he declares early. In the second or third round we could also see cornerback Nickell Robey, defensive end Morgan Breslin, and center Khaled Holmes selected if Breslin and Robey opt to forego their final year of eligibility. Later in the draft, expect seniors T.J. McDonald and Wes Horton to come off the board at safety and defensive end respectively.
While not matching the Trojans glut of NFL-level talent, there should be at least two Yellow Jackets picked this year. Omoregie Uzzi could be a third of fourth round selection after making the All-ACC first team at offensive guard. Rod Sweeting is the other likely draftee at cornerback. His situation is extremely fluid based on measurables and how he fares at the combine.
Some may think USC will sleep-walk through this game since its only a mid-tier bowl and far below their preseason expectations. However, it’s important to remember that there has been no bowls at any level for Coach Lane Kiffin and USC the last few years. It definitely hurts not having Barkley, but I think Wittek will have a solid game and lead the Trojans past the Yellow Jackets in a high-scoring, wildly entertaining shootout in the desert.
Georgia Tech has lost seven straight bowl games including a loss to Utah last year in the Sun Bowl. They finished the year at just 6-7 with some ugly losses including one to Middle Tennessee and getting blown out at home by BYU. Their defense has been struggling and the USC defense has the athletes to chase down their option.
The spread is at 7.5 right now after falling the last few days since Barkley was ruled out. At 10 points, I liked Tech to cover like they did against Florida state their last time out, but as the line falls I think more and more I’ll give the points and go with Wittek to win and cover.