Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
The Trojans came into the season ranked as the number one team in the country, but now find themselves with five losses and playing in the Sun Bowl just hoping to spare themselves from further embarrassment.
Who, What, When, Where and Why?
USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7)
Monday, December 31, 2012 11 a.m. PT/1 p.m. CT
El Paso, Texas
Fourth place Pac-12 vs. fourth place ACC
Why to watch?
This is one of the strangest bowl pairings out there this year. The pre-season number one team in the country sitting at 7-5 against a team that finished the regular season with a losing record but somehow won the division in their conference. The Trojans will be fighting not even to just salvage their season, but to shelter themselves from further embarrassment and to keep confidence in head coach Lane Kiffin from hitting the floor, if it hasn't already. It will be interesting to see how the Trojans respond and whether they play like they have a chip on their shoulder, or if they are still sulking about a season that was a disappointment on so many levels.
However, the game just got a lot more interesting as USC quarterback Matt Barkley has been ruled out with an injured shoulder and will be replaced by redshirt freshman Max Wittek who filled in for Barkley in their loss to Notre Dame.
Who are the stars?
Marqise Lee So. WR USC
A legitimate Heisman candidate, Lee is the best receiver in the nation and one of the best receivers to ever play in the Pac-12. Lee's ability to not only catch deep balls, but then make plays with his feet with the ball in his hands is uncanny and he has the potential to be the first player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Tevin Washington Sr. QB Georgia Tech
One of the best running quarterbacks in the nation, Washington finished behind only Collin Klein in rushing touchdowns in 2012 with 19. Deadly in Georgia Tech's option attack, Washington is also proficient as a passer when need be, hitting passes when defenses least expect it.
Robert Woods Jr. WR USC
This could actually be Woods' last game as a Trojan as it is possible that he may declare for the NFL Draft after the season. Woods teams with Lee to form the deadliest receiver combo in college football and his speed and athleticism will put serious pressure on the Georgia Tech secondary.
Other players to watch
T.J. McDonald Sr. S USC
Omoregie Uzzi Sr. G Georgia Tech
Morgan Breslin Jr. DE USC
Georgia Tech's secondary against Marqise Lee and Robert Woods
The Yellow Jackets have zero chance of making it a game if they can't slow the dynamic duo of Lee and Woods and that is no small order. The Yellow Jackets have not fared well when teams have attacked them repeatedly through the air, giving up more than 350 yards to Miami, North Carolina and Clemson. Their best hope might be to hope to slow them a bit by sending a barrage of blitzes at Wittek and hoping that they can force him into quick throws.
USC's defensive line against Georgia Tech's running game
The USC defense has really struggled against teams that love to run the ball, in fact, their five losses came in games where their opponent ran the ball more than 35 times. The Yellow Jackets will likely look at what Oregon did to carve up the Trojans for 426 yards and the Trojans will have to find a way to stop it, or risk getting into another shootout.
You're a Pac-12 fan... why do you want USC to win?
You don't. After watching USC dominate the conference for nearly 10 years, maybe it is nice to see them down for a year. But really you do. USC is still the most talented team in the conference and it would be an utter embarrassment for the entire conference to have them lose to a middle of the road ACC team with a losing record.
On the flip side, if you truly want USC to stay down you might actually want them to win. Another embarrassing loss might be what it takes for the USC athletic department to move quickly and get Lane Kiffin out sooner rather than later and it is likely they would bring in a coach with better game day coaching prowess if they did.
On paper, this one of the uglier match-ups out there this bowl season. USC may be 7-5, but they have to be about the most talented and experienced 7-5 team in the history of college football and Georgia Tech needed two teams to be ineligible and a petition to get into the bowl game. However, the Yellow Jackets gave a very good Florida State team a much better game in the ACC Championship Game than anyone expected and their biggest strength plays right into USC's biggest weakness.
With that said, I still see USC keeping this game comfortable for themselves even without Barkley. Wittek looked solid against one of the best defenses in the country in Notre Dame and he should be able to play loose with Woods and Lee frustrating the Georgia Tech secondary. Also expect the Trojans to carve up some yards on the ground with Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal with the Yellow Jackets so focused on their air attack.
USC 38 Georgia Tech 24