Preseason No. 1 USC started the year chasing the school’s 12th national championship, to take care of what senior quarterback Matt Barkley called “unfinished business.” But following a two-year postseason ban, the Trojans are not playing for the BCS crystal in Miami — which, ironically, is the city where the man whose transgressions the Men of Troy paid for, Reggie Bush, is currently paid to play football.
Instead, USC is off to the West Texas border town of El Paso to face Georgia Tech, a program with a losing record in 2012 and in the midst of a seven-bowl losing streak. But with so much NFL talent on the field and a chip on their shoulder — not to mention a 0–2 record of their own in the Sun Bowl — the Trojans still have plenty to play for.
USC should want to go out with a bang not a whimper, to show the sarcastic skeptics exactly why the Trojans were once considered the top team in the land.
Sun Bowl — USC (7–5) vs. Georgia Tech (6–7)
Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
Location: El Paso, Texas
When the USC Trojans have the ball:
Barkley began the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite and projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. After throwing for a career-worst 15 INTs, Barkley suffered a sprained AC joint in his right throwing arm in a loss against UCLA and was forced to sit out his final home game at the L.A. Coliseum against No. 1 Notre Dame. And USC’s all-time leading passer was not cleared to play in the Sun Bowl, which means Max Wittek will get his second start. Wittek completed 14 of 23 throws for 186 yards and one touchdown against Notre Dame in the regular season finale.
Although Wittek is short on experience, he will have the nation’s top receiving corps at his disposal. Unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee has 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 TDs this season, while Robert Woods added another 73 catches for 813 yards and 11 TDs.
Georgia Tech arrives with the nation’s No. 77 scoring defense (29.9 ppg), No. 67 passing defense and No. 47 run defense, having allowed 3,110 yards and 22 pass TDs along with 1,921 yards and 27 rush TDs in 13 games.
When the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have the ball:
For all the success Paul Johnson has had with his triple-option offense during the season, the Yellow Jackets have struggled in bowl games when teams have weeks — as opposed to days — to prepare for the unique attack. Johnson’s Jackets are 0–4 in bowls since he took over in 2008, including a 30–27 loss to Utah in last year’s Sun Bowl.
Quarterback Tevin Washington is the engine that powers the Ramblin’ Wreck — with 1,173 yards and seven TDs through the air, and 638 yards and 19 TDs on the ground. Running back Orwin Smith was Tech’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver, but was forced to sit out of the season’s final two games with an ankle injury.
USC’s star-studded secondary, led by safety T.J. McDonald and corner Nickell Robey, will be neutralized somewhat against GT’s ground-and-pound offense. But the Trojans’ strong linebacker corps, including big play Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and No. 55 Lamar Dawson will be prominently on display in Monte Kiffin’s last game calling the defense.
Barkley, McDonald and a loaded senior class won’t go out in the style they envisioned, but they will go out waving the “V” for victory. Expect the Trojans to ride off into the sunset following a decisive Sun Bowl win.
Prediction: USC 42, Georgia Tech 24
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