Wisconsin Badgers vs (25) USC Trojans (-3, o/u 50.5)
The National Funding Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30, 10:30 PM Eastern) in San Diego is a chance for two good programs to finish the campaign on a positive note. Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big 10) didn’t pick up a big victory all year, while USC (8-6, 6-3 Pac-12) got beaten handily in their league championship game.
There was no shame in the Badgers starting the season with a 35-17 loss against Alabama. As expected, they reeled off non-conference wins against weak opponents to get to 3-1. At the time, it felt like a big upset when Iowa came to Madison and won 10-6, but the Hawkeyes turned out to be a Big Ten power. The Badgers didn’t have many other good teams on their schedule and ended the year without a signature win. Their best victory was a 23-21 win in the final seconds at Nebraska.
The Huskers enter bowl season on the heels of a 13-7 setback against then-no. 20 Northwestern and a 31-21 win over Minnesota in their regular season finale.
After losing star RB Melvin Gordon to the NFL, the Badgers featured an anemic offense that couldn’t muster much against top opponents (averaging just ten PPG in the team’s three losses). Quarterback Joel Stave completed 60-percent of his throws for 2,470 yards but had 11 interceptions and only 10 touchdown passes.
While the offense took a step back, the defense stepped up, leading the NCAA in scoring at 13.1 PPG. The unit is more deep than top-heavy with linebacker Joe Schobert being the team’s only first-team all-conference performer. The senior forced a school-record five fumbles and tallied 9.5 sacks.
USC holds their program to a higher standard than most schools and, while two losses against Stanford and one to Notre Dame means the majority of Trojan setbacks were understandable, the year was still a mess. A mid-season coaching change helped for a bit, and interim coach Clay Helton was given the full-time job after beating Utah, Arizona, and UCLA down the stretch, but there was no excuse for a 48-28 loss to Oregon or laying an egg at home against Washington (17-12).
Despite the turmoil surrounding former head coach Steve Sarkisian, quarterback Cody Kessler had a good year, though not the Heisman-caliber one many were predicting. He passed for over 3,300 yards and 28 TDs while completing nearly 68-percent of his throws; he also took care of the ball, throwing just six INTs. Kessler was likely the team MVP, but a strong case could be made for uber-athlete Adoree’ Jackson, who did it all for the Trojans this year. An all-Pac-12 corner, Jackson returned two punts for scores, and was also second on the team in receiving yards.
With the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, this will be a de facto home game for USC in terms of crowd support. The Badgers resume is light and while it wasn’t a banner year for Southern Cal, Helton could use a victory to buoy recruiting. The Trojans minus a field goal is the play, though buying it down to 2.5 isn’t the worst idea against a tough defense.
(Photo credit: NeonTommy (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/] via Creative Commons. Photo has been cropped.)
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