What to watch: Rose Bowl

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
9:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Five things to consider, underline or anticipate from the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi.

This isn't a stooge team from the Big Ten: USC has won its last eight games vs. the Big Ten by an average of 28.4 points. None of those teams, however, were the 2008 Penn State Nittany Lions. Just like a mutual fund, a bright past history doesn't mean certain future success -- see your 401(k) for supporting numbers. None of those previous teams can match Penn State, the true Big Ten champions, for motivation, talent and skill on both sides of the football.

Will USC show up with a big-game mentality? They won't admit it, but lots of USC's guys are thinking about their NFL prospects. And more than a few in previous weeks expressed regret they will play in their fourth Rose Bowl in five years instead of another BCS game. And, of course, this team started the season thinking national championship or bust. The Trojans have built a reputation as a dominant big-game team under Pete Carroll, winning five of six BCS bowl games and consistently pounding all comers from across the country. Their last regular-season nonconference loss came on Sept. 21, 2002. But will the Trojans bring the same intensity this time, when there are so many reasons for a flat performance?

Can USC's offense keep up its side of the bargain? So much has been said about the brilliance of the USC defense, the nation's best unit by almost every measure. But Penn State's D is not chopped liver. The Nittany Lions rank third in scoring defense (12.4 points per game) and fifth in total defense (264 yards per game). It should be the best unit USC has played this year, and it's no secret that, despite solid numbers, the Trojans offense has been inconsistent at times. Will PSU slow USC's run game and pressure Mark Sanchez into costly mistakes? It could happen.

USC can't let Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark make plays with his feet: USC's defensive players are tired of hearing how they struggle against mobile quarterbacks. They note that line of thinking mostly exists because of Vince Young's singular performance in the 2005 BCS title game. They point to Illinois quarterback Juice Williams from last year's Rose Bowl. But Penn State's Daryll Clark is a better all-around quarterback than Williams and he's got a vastly superior supporting cast. And he's just as mobile: See nine rushing touchdowns.

Is Oregon State relevant? Nothing stands out more on the two schedules than disparate Oregon State results. Penn State crushed Oregon State 45-14; USC lost at Oregon State 27-21. Even if you are not a believer in the transitive property of college football -- and you could also compare wildly different scoring margins vs. Ohio State -- that at least suggests there's no reason for Penn State to be intimidated. It will be hard for Penn State's players to watch film of Jacquizz Rodgers slicing through the vaunted USC defense and not imagine they will be able to do the same with Evan Royster.

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