I just have to love it when worlds collide. For those who do not know, I am a freshman at USC, who just so happens to play my home state school, Wisconsin, in the Holiday Bowl this year. People have been asking me who I am rooting for and the truth is that I just want to see a good game. Both teams offer different strengths and weaknesses to the table, and honestly it could go either way. However, for the Wisconsin-based readership of this blog, I wanted to provide some background as to how USC Football works.
The USC football program is a quasi-religious institution on campus. Gamedays are covered in red and yellow and are a very cheerful and enjoyable experience filled with school spirit, much like Madison. The team’s facilities are underground in the secret John McKay Center, which can only be accessed by athletes through multiple levels of security and fingerprint codes. From the second-nicest training facility in the country (behind Oregon), to their own restaurant, USC football players are given the five-star Los Angeles treatment. USC has a long history of domination in the Pac-12 Conference, and as such, has the expectation that every season will yield a Rose Bowl-competitive team. The student section is very active at games, and helps create a unique experience in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, especially on sweltering 90 degree and above days such as the beginning of the season.
The 2015 Season was a bit of an interesting road. After two easy victories at home against Arkansas State and Idaho, an early season loss to Stanford shocked the Trojan faithful. However, a road win at Arizona State renewed some confidence, which was only lost big-time by a home loss the following week to lowly Washington. After this game, coach Steve Sarkisian was found to have been drinking before and during most of the prior games, and after appearing at a practice belligerently drunk was fired by athletic director Pat Haden. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton was given an interim position at a critical time, as a huge rival in Notre Dame loomed. While the Trojans lost that game in South Bend, the tenacity displayed showed that something was different. Helton’s implementation of a family mindset and close unit helped the Trojans come out and beat then number 3 ranked Utah the following week, starting a 4-game win streak over Utah, Cal, Arizona, and Colorado. A loss in Eugene against Oregon was difficult, but the Trojans more than made up for it by beating nemesis UCLA 40-21 and reclaiming the Victory Bell for the first time in three years. The UCLA win also clinched the Pac-12 South and helped land Helton the full-time head coaching position. A loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship was unfortunate but expected, and now the Trojans are at the Holiday Bowl.
The offense starts with quarterback Cody Kessler. He completes over two-thirds of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 154.3 with 28 touchdowns. Kessler is the heart and soul of the team and continues Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Matt Barkley in a string of successful Trojan quarterbacks. His favorite target is wideout Juju Smith-Schuster, who has over 1300 yards receiving this season and 10 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster is an explosive player who is a threat on the ground and in the air and must be contained for any team to have success against the Trojans. Besides Smith-Schuster, wideouts Steven Mitchell and Isaac Whitney provide suitable options for Kessler. In addition to all of this, the three-headed animal that is the USC backfield of Ronald Jones II, Tre Madden, and Justin Davis is a mean, green, defense-shredding machine. Specifically, Jones himself averages 6 yards a carry and has 900 plus yards for the season overall. He also is in my Religions class and has a filthy knowledge of Christianity. Madden and Davis each average five yards a carry and have five touchdowns apiece for the season. This offense will undoubtedly be the strongest that the Badgers have faced all year, and poses the strongest chance for Trojan victory.
For the Badgers to win, the USC defense needs to be exploited. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has been announced as being fired, so it will be interesting to see if he slacks off seeing as he knows he will not be there next year or if he gives it his all in his last game as a Trojan. The defensive line is led by Antwaun Woods, but is really not that incredible. A strong Badgers run game is likely to occur. In the linebacking core, Su’a Cravens, who just declared for the NFL, anchors the center of the defense that ranks 70th in the country as compared to the Badgers’ 3rd. Lamar Dawson adds some assistance in the linebacking core. The secondary is dominated by standout cornerback Adore’e Jackson, who also is a mean kick returner. Jackson single-handedly has shut down some of the Pac-12’s top receivers, proving his worth. On the other side of the field, freshman Iman “Biggie” Marshall lines up. Marshall has made some key mistakes over the year that have cost the team, but also has a knack for making clutch interceptions. Hopefully, his inconsistencies disappear as he matures.
USC is a very strong football program, and comes from a university where football is prestigious and pristine. It will be a tough win for the Badgers to get, and I am intrigued to see if they pull it out.