The USC Trojans will not lineup across from Alabama on January 7th, game plan for Collin Klein on January 3rd, or try to slow down Wisconsin’s loaded backfield on January 1st. Dropping four of their last five games, USC dashed any and all hopes of landing in Miami or Glendale, commuting to Pasadena, or even waiting anxiously in the front row for the announcement in New York. The Trojans’ must now focus on December 31st and the Hyundai Sun Bowl for one last chance to erase any auld lang syne for a more prosperous 2013.
Their opponent, the 6-7 Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech, poses a serious obstacle to such bliss, despite their record and bowl eligibility via an NCAA waiver. The Ramblin’ Wreck are no strangers to Texas. They travelled to El Paso last season and lost in overtime to Utah, 30-27. After struggling out of the gate at 2-4, the Jackets rebounded with 4-straight conference wins and a shot at the ACC Championship.
Although they lost 21-15, Georgia Tech pushed #13 Florida State to the limit. Corner Jemea Thomas, a likely candidate for Marqise Lee duty, snagged his 4th interception of the season off Seminole QB EJ Manuel with 2:17 to go in the game. Their shot at an upset ended when FSU intercepted the ball right back a minute later. Their confidence should be riding high defensively as they forced two turnovers in the second half and held FSU scoreless in the second half to stay close.
The announcement of Matt Barkley starting his final game as a Trojan, however, might impact that confidence a bit, especially since this seems like more of a move for his professional future. Many wonder if interrupting Max Wittek’s development as the likely heir apparent to Barkley and taking away starting snaps is a mistake. But, one last 300-plus yard passing game to Lee and Robert Woods will definitely help scouts forget Anthony Barr driving Barkley’s shoulder into the ground before the combine in February and a pro-day in April.
As for the Trojan defense, Gerogia Tech runs a triple option, and could have Orwin Smith, their leading rusher with an average of 9 yards per carry, back in the lineup following an ankle injury. Monte Kiffin, in his final game as defensive coordinator, has the distinct opportunity to prove he can stop an option offense. Setting dubious records against Oregon’s read-option this season, allowing the most yards (730), points (62), and touchdowns (9) in a game, might not rally the fan base, but Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Leonard Williams anchors the inside. His presence should allow plenty of lanes for Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey to fill and wrap up GT’s running backs. Any tackles that they don’t rack up, TJ McDonald can clean up.
USC will not play for the national championship, nor will they win another Heisman for display in Heritage Hall, but they can make one last stand for a win. A win wouldn’t cure the ills of the past, but it can make the New Year feel a bit more hopeful for better things to come.