#25 USC v. Wisconsin
Qualcomm Stadium — San Diego, CA
December 30, 2015 — 10:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
Originally founded back in 1978 as the postseason reward for the WAC champion after losing affiliation with the Fiesta Bowl, the Holiday Bowl has helped crown national champions (BYU in 1984) and featured some of the biggest names in college football. It has the distinction of being among the dozen oldest bowl games in current operation, with the contest nearing its 40th anniversary. Since 1998 the game has exclusively featured Power Five teams, evolving away from its mid-major roots just like the bowl it replaced in the postseason calendar. After years as a showdown between the Pac-10/12 and the Big 12, the game has shifted into a sort of Rose Bowl undercard between Big Ten and Pac-12 opponents.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Southern Cal will be playing in San Diego for the second straight postseason, and it will be interesting to see how motivated this team is for its return trip to the Holiday Bowl. The Trojans managed to win the Pac-12 South thanks to a victory over rival UCLA in the regular-season finale, but they bombed out to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship and saw the dismissal of their defensive staff as a result. No-longer-interim head coach Clay Helton will have his work cut out for him as the Trojans bring a limited staff south for this game. USC was solid enough on offense, though quarterback Cody Kessler’s numbers regressed from his 2014 peak. The defense was truly the Achilles’ heel for the Trojans, as they conceded over 400 yards per game and finished outside the top 50 in scoring defense. Penalties didn’t help either, as USC ended the year as one of the 20 most-penalized teams in the country.
Wisconsin opened the year with a blowout loss to College Football Playoff semifinalist Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but then rebounded to lose just two games the rest of the way — and each of those two losses, to Iowa and (controversially) to Northwestern, were by less than a touchdown. The Badgers were hampered by an uncharacteristically-abysmal running game in 2015, seeing their streak of 1000-yard rushers broken after seven seasons of dominance on the ground. Wisconsin rebounded from their performance against the Tide in Texas to finish with the best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 13 points and 267 yards per game. The Badger D is just as strong against the run as the pass, showing few weaknesses and excelling on every down and in every situation. If the offense could provide anything, Wisconsin could claim its first win over a Pac-12 opponent since beating Oregon State in September 2011.
What is Likely to Happen
Vegas favors USC by 3.5 points, but that belies the general lack of momentum around the Trojan program at the moment. Joel Stave and the Badger offense will be able to methodically work the ball downfield, chewing off large chunks of time from the clock and limiting Southern Cal’s opportunities with the ball. When they do get possession USC has the skill players to muster some offense against the Badgers, but an unit that skews heavily toward the pass will allow Wisconsin’s defense to key in on making Kessler’s day miserable. The Trojans will be lucky if they score two touchdowns against a brick-wall unit. It all comes down, then, to how well a USC defensive unit in disarray can keep Stave and an underwhelming Badger running game in check. It is an interesting battle of strength-versus-strength and weakness-versus-weakness that should end in a close victory for the team that traveled further to get to the venue.
Wisconsin 21, USC 17
|2015-2016 SPORTS UNBIASED BOWL PREVIEWS:|
|DECEMBER 19-24: New Mexico | Las Vegas | Camellia | Cure | New Orleans | Miami Beach | Idaho Potato | Boca Raton | Poinsettia | GoDaddy | Bahamas | Hawai'i
DECEMBER 26-30: St. Petersburg | Sun | Heart of Dallas | Pinstripe | Independence | Foster Farms | Military | Quick Lane | Armed Forces | Russell Athletic | Arizona | Texas | Birmingham | Belk | Music City | Holiday
DECEMBER 31-JANUARY 11: Peach | Orange | Cotton | Outback | Citrus | Fiesta | Rose | Sugar | TaxSlayer | Liberty | Alamo | Cactus | CFP National Championship