Match-up: USC (Pac-12) vs. Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Spread: USC (-3)
Location: Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego, CA
When: Wednesday, December 30th, 10:30 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN
The Trojans were preseason ranked #8 in the country, and with a boatload of talent, were supposed to compete for a conference championship and a spot in the college football playoffs. After all of the drama surrounding former coach Steve Sarkisian who was fired for his frequent alcohol use, only one of those preseason goals came to fruition. Thanks to a conference that turned out to be weak, the Trojans still reached the Pac-12 championship game but were blown out by Stanford. Present coach Clay Helton did a wonderful job keeping his team focused during the tough times early on, and he was rewarded for his efforts with being named the permanent head coach for USC moving forward. Overall, while being widely inconsistent on both sides of the ball, this is still one of the more talented teams across the country.
Players to Watch
Cody Kessler (QB): The senior will be making his final start for the Trojans in the Holiday Bowl, and he’s been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in USC program history and in the country over the course of his career. With a 36:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio along with throwing for more than 3,300 yards, Kessler and the weapons at his arsenal will be on full display in this game. The Wisconsin defense will have to bring their absolute best game in order to slow down Kessler and company. Even still, if Kessler takes care of the ball (which he most likely will), the Trojans will have a great opportunity to win this game and build some momentum heading into 2016.
Su’a Cravens (LB): Cravens has been the heart and soul for this Trojans defense all season long, leading the team with 14.5 tackles for loss including 5.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions this season. Cravens was also selected for First-Team All-Pac-12 performer for the second consecutive season. The three year starter will be playing his final game for the Trojans, as he announced his intentions to declare for the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft. I’m expecting a big game from Cravens in his final collegiate game.
How USC Can Win
Take care of the ball offensively and be balanced. The Trojans have plenty of playmakers on offense, which will be difficult for Wisconsin to deal with for four quarters. If they take care of the ball and establish the run with the elusive Ronald Jones II, then there’s no reason in the world the Trojans can’t score at will, even on a solid Wisconsin defense. The higher scoring this game is, the more it benefits USC.
A tough loss at home on senior day to Northwestern put a sour taste in the mouths of the Wisconsin faithful, as the Badgers had an excellent season despite losing All-American running back Melvin Gordon to the NFL. The three lone losses came to the likes of Alabama, Iowa, and Northwestern, who all happen to rank in the AP Top 20. Unfortunately for the Badgers, those were the only three tough games on their schedule, with their remaining 9 opponents being unranked. Still, 9 wins is still outstanding.
Players to Watch
Joel Stave (QB): The senior quarterback has improved in each of his four years in Madison. Despite having more interceptions than touchdown passes (11-10), Stave is a very capable passer when given brief time in the pocket. He’s also more athletic than given credit for, as he can pick up the tough yards with his feet when his team needs him most. Playing in his final collegiate game, Stave will be one of the main reasons for winning this game if Wisconsin can pull off the upset.
Alex Erickson (WR): The senior wideout will also be playing in his final game in a Wisconsin uniform, and he’s been Stave’s go-to guy all season long. Erickson led the team with 72 catches (44 more than the next guy), 924 yards, and 3 scores. If the Wisconsin passing game gets going in this game, Erickson will be a big reason why.
How Wisconsin Can Win
Be methodical offensively. Wisconsin’s defense can keep them hanging around, even against a really good Trojans offense, but they will have to be well rested throughout the course of the game. Which means Stave and company need to keep the chains moving and eat up time to preserve for their defense to rest and play at their best against a really explosive USC offense. Run the ball, mix it up with some play action, and do whatever is necessary to keep the chains moving and dominate the time of possession. I don’t see another formula for which the Badgers could win this game.
Final Score Prediction: USC wins 28-24
Photo Credits: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/169025792237996939/
Christian Reilly- @CReillyTV