103rd Rose Bowl: USC-PSU reunion
Southern California and Penn State followed two difficult paths to reach a remarkable reunion eight years later in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans will face the Big Ten champions on Jan. 2 in the 103rd edition of the Granddaddy of Them All. The rematch of the 2009 game showcases two venerable football programs that have emerged from bad times since their last trip to this traditional postseason destination for their conferences.
“I can’t think of a better reward for our football team after this season,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “These are the things you dream about as a little kid.”
USC (9-3) will meet Penn State (11-2) in a rematch of the Trojans’ 38-24 victory eight years ago — the last trip to the Rose Bowl for either team. Since then, both programs were rocked to their foundations by scandals and NCAA sanctions.
But both capped years of progress with breakthroughs this fall, recovering from similarly slow starts to become two of the nation’s top teams.
Coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions have won nine straight games, culminating in a 38-31 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game. Penn State finished fifth in the final College Football Playoff rankings, just ahead of Michigan.
“How humbled and honored we are to have this opportunity,” Franklin said. “I think this is a game and a bowl that players and coaches grow up dreaming about having an opportunity to play in and be a part of one day.”
Helton’s Trojans have won eight games in a row, capped by back-to-back victories over top rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. The Trojans barely missed out on the Pac-12 title game between Washington and Colorado — who were both beaten convincingly by USC — but overtook the Buffaloes in the final playoff rankings to snag their record 34th Rose Bowl berth.
Penn State will make its fourth appearance in the Rose Bowl, including three against USC. The Rose Bowl berth is another milestone in the program’s revival after the scandal surrounding former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was indicted on 40 counts of sex crimes in 2011.
USC has played in far more Rose Bowls than any other team. The Trojans’ downtown campus is 15 miles from the stadium, which became the program’s second home during the dominant years of coach Pete Carroll.