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Thursday, January 1, 2009
Rose Bowl preview

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The defining game of the Big Ten bowl season pits traditional powers No. 8 Penn State (11-1) against No. 5 USC (11-1) in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC 5 p.m. ET). The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000 and enters with a four-game losing streak in BCS games. Penn State hasn't followed the league's downward trend, winning its last three bowl games, including the 2006 Orange.

Here's a look at this mega matchup.

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster have sparkled as first-year starters in Penn State's offensive backfield. They face their toughest test to date in USC, which leads the nation in scoring and could be the best defense in recent college football history. Clark regained his confidence in the regular-season finale against Michigan State but must make smart, yet assertive decisions. If Penn State's veteran offensive line gives Royster running room, he could do some damage.

WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's offensive scheme and strategy this season has been, well, very un-Penn State. The Spread HD attacked defenses with small, fast wide receivers and opened up running lanes for Clark, Royster, Derrick Williams and Stephfon Green. USC's back seven on defense is its strength, so it will be interesting to see how aggressive play-callers Jay Paterno and Galen Hall will be in the game. A bold approach has its risks and rewards, while a conservative style likely won't work against USC.

WHY TO WATCH: Because it's the Rose Bowl, silly. Not fully convinced? You've got two iconic coaches from different generations (Joe Paterno and Pete Carroll), two top five defenses (including the so-called greatest defense ever in USC), a ton of future NFL players and the arguably the greatest setting in college sports. USC can strengthen its argument as potentially the nation's best team, while Penn State can finally gain national respect for its team and, just maybe, its league. You have no excuse not to watch this game.