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Thursday, January 1, 2009
Rose Bowl: USC (11-1) vs. Penn State (11-1)


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

USC will try to close a perfect Pac-10 postseason in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi, but Penn State is trying to redeem the Big Ten's waning national reputation.

Who to watch: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez

If Sanchez has a big day, it seems almost certain USC wins, because that means he will be accurately distributing the ball to his playmakers, who would eventually burn a mediocre Penn State secondary. The best way for Penn State to score, however, is if it plays on a short field made possible by Sanchez trying to force balls into places where they don't fit. Of course, if Sanchez turns in a big game, he might ride it all the way to the NFL draft this spring.

What to watch: Penn State fighting off USC's second wave

Teams facing USC always talk about a fast start, about matching the Trojans' speed and aggressiveness and "punching them in the mouth." And that's certainly something. But the Trojans typically assert dominance after a game is a few possessions or even a couple of quarters old. The coaching staff sees what wrinkles it's going to face and makes adjustments, and then it's just two teams playing. That almost always works in USC's favor, see eight second-half shutouts and 22 points allowed after halftime the entire year.

Why to watch: Because the winner of this game will have an argument that it's deserving of a final No. 1 ranking. Because you might never see a defense as good as USC's again. Because this is a classic matchup of two teams -- and two coaches -- that couldn't be more different in terms of the way they present themselves to the public. Because Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Taylor Mays will make the crowd gasp at some point with a blow-up hit. Because Penn State is a pretty salty team that might just shock the nation and whip the Trojans. Because there's nothing like the sun setting over the San Gabriel Mountains during a Rose Bowl. Because the Rose Bowl is still the best freaking bowl game there is.


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.