2017 Rose Bowl Preview: Who Will Win Between No. 5 Penn State and No. 9 USC?

The 103rd edition of the annual Rose Bowl game, affectionately called, "The Grandaddy of Them All" kicks off on Monday afternoon and features two of College Football's most historic programs.

It's time to stop and smell the roses.

The 103rd edition of the annual Rose Bowl game, affectionately called, "The Grandaddy of Them All" kicks off on Monday afternoon and features two of College Football's most historic programs.

The No. 9 USC Trojans and No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions will tangle toe-to-toe for the tenth time in each of their school's history, and for the first time since they last met in the Rose Bowl in 2009.

The Trojans won that game, 38-24, at the tale end of the Pete Caroll era, and a year later, the school was jolted by sanctions from the NCAA that crippled the program over the next five years.

Sanctions are something that Penn State knows all about after they too, suffered debilitating penalties in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Both teams emerged through a dark period in their programs and had high hopes for the 2016 season, but after their first month of play, each looked more like Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong then they did powerhouses as they sank in the rankings, singing "Wake Me Up When September Ends."

The Trojans fell flat on their face out of the gate as they were dominated by last season's College Football Champion Alabama, 52-6, in the opener. Things only spiraled from there, and USC was 1-3 before October began. 


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In familiar fashion, the Nittany Lions also struggled in their first four games, falling to 2-2 after a similar blowout loss, 49-10, to Michigan at the Big House. By October 1st, both teams were a combined 3-5 and looked like they would have to fight for their lives just to win the six games necessary to be eligible for a Bowl Game.

Fittingly, the two embattled programs became mirror images of each other as if they were destined to dance in the parade of roses. Each team ran the table, with the Trojans winning their last eight games, including a statement win over No. 4 Washington, a team that won the Pac 12 Championship and was in the College Football Playoff.

Penn State took it a step further, winning their last nine games of the season including victories over No. 2 Ohio State (another CFP team) and No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ironically, the two in-season turnarounds for the legendary programs started at the quarterback position where redshirt sophomore Trace McScorley finally came into his own in Happy Valley and Trojans freshman Sam Darnold inevitably won over the starting job from junior Max Browne, a role he arguably should have had since day one.

In their first season at quarterbacks for their respective teams, McSorley led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,360) and TDs (25) to go with only five interceptions.

Darnold was not far behind, throwing for 2,633 yards and more touchdowns (26) in less starts (9). He also rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns as the tall, physical, and athletic play caller provided fits for opposing defenses.

The key to victory for both teams will not surprisingly come down to defense, where each team will have the tough task to stop the opposing team's quarterback and a high-octane offense.

For the Trojans, that starts with shutting down sophomore running back Saquan Barkley who was recently named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Barkley rushed for 1,302 yards and 16 touchdowns this season for the Lions.

Barkley's ability on the ground set up McSorley to locate his top receiving target, junior Chris Goodwin who caught 50 passes for nine touchdowns on the season.

The Nittany Lions have scored 38 or more points in their last six games, averaging over 45 per game. If USC wants to keep their edge over Penn State in head-to-head matchups all-time (5-4) they have to keep the Lions out of the end zone.

Penn State has struggled on third down this season and Clancy Pendergast's defense will need to stop Barkley on the ground and force McSorley and the offense off the field if they want to win the game. 

The key to any game is turnovers, and such will be the case on Monday. Penn State is one of the top teams in the country at causing (and recovering) fumbles, something that has been an Achille's heel of Darnold this season.

Look for the Trojans to establish the run early and often as Darnold hands the ball off to the two-headed monster that is running backs Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis. The Lions have struggled against good rushing teams this season including Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin.

If Tailback University has it rolling in the first half, Darnold will look to leading receiver, junior JuJu Smith-Schuster who will almost certainly play between the hashmarks on Sundays.

The X-factor of course for USC could be Thorpe Award winner Adoree' Jackson, who was voted the country's top cornerback last month. Jackson is also an offensive threat out of the backfield, and the nation's top return specialist.

In the Trojans final game of the season, Jackson scored a touchdown on offense, on a punt return, and a kick return as USC demolished long-time rival Notre Dame, 45-27, on November 26th.

This game is easily the most anticipated matchup outside of the National Championship game next week and it's only fitting that the two teams meet in the same stadium that they played their first ever Rose Bowl in 1923, a 14-3 USC victory.

So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? 

We're about to find out as one team's winning-streak is about to come to an end. Kickoff for the game is slated for 2:00PM PST on Monday, January 2nd on ESPN.

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