Emerald Bowl Preview: Boston College vs USC
USC embarked on a 2009 football campaign with expectations of appearing in a California Bowl at season’s completion. The Trojans stayed true to their west coast mission, but San Francisco’s Emerald Bowl wasn’t the prime target. The program will travel to the northern part of the state, away from a Rose Bowl that is housing both the Pac 10 champion Oregon Ducks and national title contenders Texas and Alabama.
The Empire began the season with a historic first, when Pete Carroll opted to go with true freshman Matt Barkley as its quarterback. Four months later, we reach another, with USC bumped from the BCS stage for the first time in seven years. Barkley is now the first quarterback under Pete Carroll to not perform in a BCS bowl game, but has plenty of years remaining to join Mark Sanchez, John David Booty, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer in doing so. Palmer failed to reach a BCS bowl game in his first year with Carroll, but made good the following, ripping Iowa in the Orange Bowl in his farewell performance.
The Trojans are dealing with displacement, but the same can’t be said of Boston College, a program playing in its eleventh consecutive bowl game. It’s a streak that began in 1999, and though none have come with a BCS backdrop, the Eagles are 8-2 in those games.
Both the Trojans and Eagles enter this game with 8-4 records, but that is where similarities end. USC comes with a roster loaded with stars and playmakers. Boston College enters with the nameless. When you are the program of the decade, media lenses search and find each flaw. When you are the other program, most things go unnoticed or without mention. The Eagles can grasp an opportunity to be among the NCAA mentionable, with a victory over one of the most glorified programs on Saturday.
For as much criticism USC has faced for their offensive struggles, The Trojans are still better in the category than their bowl counterpart. The Eagles carry a woeful 98th ranking in total offense. They are 95th in the country passing the ball, with an efficiency rating ranked 90th. They are also 70th in the nation rushing, averaging a little more than 140 yards per game, though running back Montel Harris is among the national leaders.
The Eagles rely on their defense, one that has been stout against the run (16th in the country), and has allowed opponents less than 20 points per game. This is a unit that was crippled early by the loss of Matt Herzlich to a battle with cancer, but freshman linebacker Luke Kuechly has filled those shoes well, finishing second in the nation in tackles, recordig eleven of those for loss.
Absence and attentiveness are the keys for USC and bowl victory or failure. Tight end Anthony McCoy and offensive lineman Tyron Smith are absent with academic issues. Cornerback Josh Pinkard is done for the season with a torn ACL. Joe McKnight did not board the flight to the bay area, still attempting to lift the clouds of alleged improprieties. His replacement, Allen Bradford, is scheduled to participate, but will be fresh off a knee sprain in last week’s practice.
The Trojan hearts will be on display this weekend. They must shake off distractions and controversies. Young players like Matt Kalil will have to prove his worth in his first collegiate start. Veteran players like Shareece Wright must shake off the rust for his only field appearance this season. C.J. Gable will be given another moment in the spotlight, allowing another opportunity to make the most of it.
This wasn’t the intended destination, but for the empire, the resurgence and rebuilding begins right now, this Saturday, at AT&T Park.
Prediction: USC 38, Boston College 13
All Time Series: Trojans lead 2-0
Last Meeting: USC 34, Boston College 7 (1988)