After a game for the ages in Indianapolis, the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions were crowned champions of the Big Ten Conference. The epic comeback came against the Wisconsin Badgers, who had one of the best defenses in the country this season. Many people in the world of sports believed that the way they had won would be enough for them to sneak in the last remaining playoff spot instead of the Washington Huskies. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, the College Football Playoff committee kept them out, and instead they will take on the USC Trojans in the annual Rose Bowl game.
The Trojans came into this season ranked 20th in the preseason AP poll and opened the season at the 2016 Cowboy Classic against the Alabama Crimson Tide. When the game was over, there was nothing but doubt surrounding the program. They took a beating at the hands of the Crimson Tide by a score of 52-6. Soon after, head coach Clay Helton made a move that changed the fate of the season. He decided to bench fan favorite quarterback Max Browne and go forward with freshman Sam Darnold. This season, Darnold threw for 2,633 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has great field vision and the potential to be a Heisman Trophy finalist for years to come. The Trojans’ leading rusher is Ronald Jones II. He ran for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He has speed and the ability to create big plays, which will come in handy against a solid Nittany Lions defense. The best player the Trojans have is defensive back Adoree’ Jackson. He recorded 51 tackles on defense this season and scored 4 total touchdowns on special teams with 671 kickoff return yards and 302 punt return yards. His ability to change the game on one play could have fans on the edge of their seats all game long.
The Nittany Lions’ season was nothing short of epic. They rolled through the regular season with only two losses, which came against the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Michigan Wolverines. A blocked field goal sealed a win over the Ohio State Buckeyes and after a 2nd half comeback against the Badgers, they were able to capture the Big Ten Championship. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 3,360 yards and 25 touchdowns this season and shined in the 2nd half of the Big Ten Conference championship game. After being thrown around by TJ Watt among other Badgers’ defensive linemen in the first half, it seemed like the game was over. However, when McSorley came out for the 2nd half, he played lights out. He stood in the pocket, took some big hits, and showed his ability to make throws under duress. The Nittany Lions’ defense contributed as well and has been one of the most consistent defenses in the country this season. They are ranked 22nd in the country in total defense and 35th in scoring defense. A lot of people may overlook them because of the other elite defenses coming out of the Big Ten East Division, but there is no doubt that will be looking to leave their mark in the Rose Bowl. Despite battling a few injuries, Nittany Lions’ running back Saquon Barkley still rushed for 1,302 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is a patient runner and could definitely make the transition to the NFL with things like durability being the only real concerns.
Keys to the game for the Trojans:
- Bring the heat on defense; when the Badgers were able to get to McSorley, the Nittany Lions’ offense had a hard time moving the ball.
- Let Darnold sling the ball. The Nittany Lions did not play a quarterback as talented as Sam Darnold last time out so the Trojans should try to create big plays early and get the defense on their heels.
- Use star power. Adoree’ Jackson should get more touches on offense because of his speed and ability to open up the playbook. So let him do a little bit of everything.
Keys to the game for the Nittany Lions:
- Hold the ball. The Trojans have a pure passer and are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, so a run-heavy approach will help the Nittany Lions control time of possession and limit just how big of a factor Darnold can be.
- Take advantage of opportunities. The Nittany Lions like to score points on defense, and if they can cash in a couple of times, it could be the difference.
- Give McSorley time. There were moments against the Badgers when it seemed like McSorley was either running for his life or making plays all by himself. If the Nittany Lions’ offensive line gives their quarterback a chance, they could have a big day against the Trojans’ defense.
The Nittany Lions were, in their eyes, robbed of a spot in the College Football Playoff. They will be looking to make a statement to the country that they should’ve been in. I think it will be close for a while, but the Nittany Lions will pull away and win the game.
Final Score Prediction: Penn State wins, 28-10