Happy New Year! After recovering from the weekend’s New Year festivities, we are hit with the cream of the bowl games. Tuesday offers a magnificent sentimental matchup as Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden square off in the Orange Bowl, followed by Wednesday’s USC/Texas showdown in the Rose Bowl for all the marbles.
Orange Bowl (Jan. 3): Joe Paterno’s Lions were 2-7 in November of 2004, then went 2-0 SU/ATS to end the season, upsetting Michigan State 37-13 as a +4 dog. No one paid much attention, but that sparked the team with some confidence and they carry a 12-1 SU, 10-3 ATS run into this game. Versatile QB Michael Robinson led the turnaround along with a speedy, aggressive defense. Robinson passed for 2,097 yards with 16 TDs, and rushed for 785 yards and 11 scores.
By contrast, Florida State carries a 2-6 ATS run into this one. The Seminoles started strong (5-0) before injuries and the difficulties of going with a freshman quarterback derailed their train. Freshman QB Drew Weatherford had 17 TDs, but also 17 INTs. The good news is that the Seminoles (8-4) overcame their difficulties with a thrilling 27-22 upset of Virginia Tech in the ACC title game as a +14 dog as the defense allowed 41 rushing yards, 1.3 ypc! Florida State is 2-6 SU, 3-5 ATS its last 8 as a dog. Do they have enough left in the tank to battle a 10-1 Penn State team that lost only to Michigan on the final play?
Rose Bowl (Jan. 4): No. 2 Texas takes on No. 1 USC, both unbeaten in one of the most anticipated games in college history. Texas (12-0 SU, 10-2 ATS) has been a cover-machine much of the season behind its sensational offense: 51 points, 273 yards rushing, 234 passing per game. The lynchpin is 6-foot-5 junior QB Vince Young (26 TDs, 10 INTs) who passed for 2,769 yards and ran for 850 yards, 6.3 ypc, tops on the team. Freshman RB Jamaal Charles (844 yards, 11 TDs) and Ramonce Taylor averaged over 7 yards per carry behind this powerful offensive line.
Texas had a 25-22 comeback win at Ohio State in September against one of the toughest defenses in the nation. In that game, the Longhorns had 111 rushing yards, just 2.9 yards per carry, and turned the ball over three times. Young had 270 pass yards (2 TDs, 2 INTs) and ran for 76 yards, 3.8 ypc.
USC (12-0 SU, 6-6 ATS) doesn’t have as dominant a defense as a year ago. In 2004 the Trojans allowed 13 points per game, 80 yards rushing, 2.6 yards per carry. This season: 21 points allowed, 117 yards rushing, 3.5 ypc. Three teams passed for over 300 yards on them this season (one last year), and Notre Dame and Fresno came close to upsetting the Trojans.
However, this defense is not bad – just ask Cal and UCLA, whom USC dominated. And what an offense! The Trojans average 50 points, 264 yards rushing and 316 passing. Senior QB Matt Leinart (3,450 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs), junior RB Reggie Bush (1,658 yds, 8.9 yds per carry, 15 TDs), RB LenDale White (1,178 yards, 21 TDs) and WRs Steve Smith and sophomore Dwayne Jarrett (1,153 yards, 15 TDs) lead this one-of-a-kind USC attack. You can make the argument this is the most potent offense the college game has ever seen, certainly in the modern era.
USC carries a 34-game win streak into this game. In addition, Head Coach Pete Carroll is 11-0 SU, 10-1 ATS the last 11 times he's had two or more weeks to prepare (not counting openers), and that included a 66-19 demolition of 9-1 UCLA the last game. USC routed a strong Big 12 team a year ago for the national title in a 55-19 rout of Oklahoma. The Longhorns haven't played in a game with national-title implications since a 10-9 loss to Georgia in the 1983 Cotton Bowl.
Texas has a 19-game winning streak, second to USC's 34 in Division I. Texas was an underdog once this season (1-0 SU/ATS) and is 3-1 SU/ATS its last 4 as a dog. Texas played in the Rose Bowl one year ago and came away with a memorable 38-37 win over Michigan. As a result, Texas coach Mac Brown is staying in the same Century City hotel room he stayed in before last January's Rose Bowl game. With all the focus on USC’s offense, it may surprise some to find that Texas actually averaged slightly more points than the Trojans. Sports bettors take note: Every Texas game went over the total this season (12-0 'over'). Enjoy the showdown!