USC will face Big Ten champion Penn State in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game Monday in a matchup of teams that have won a combined 17 consecutive games following slow starts.
The Trojans have won eight consecutive games after beginning the season 1-3, while the Nittany Lions have won nine straight following a 2-2 start.
USC’s streak began one game after redshirt freshman Sam Darnold replaced Max Browne as its starting quarterback.
Darnold is sixth among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks with a 68.1 completion percentage and has thrown multiple touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, the most by a Trojan quarterback since Matt Leinart’s 15 in 2003-2004.
Penn State also has a first-year starter at quarterback, redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley, who was selected as the MVP of Big Ten Championship as the Nittany Lions overcame a 21-point second-quarter deficit for a 38-31 victory over Wisconsin that put them into the Rose Bowl.
USC’s Rose Bowl berth stems from Pac-12 Conference champion Washington receiving a spot in the College Football Playoff, forcing the Tournament of Roses to select a replacement from the conference to maintain the contractual Pac-12-Big Ten matchup.
While the tournament traditionally selects the next-highest ranked team from the conference, it is not obligated to do so, according to Rose Bowl Management Committee Chair Scott Jenkins.
At ninth, USC was the next highest-ranked Pac-12 team, one spot ahead of Colorado which won the Pac-10 South Division and had a 10-3 record to the Trojans’ 9-3 mark. USC defeated the Buffaloes 21-17 on Oct. 8.
Both teams are making their first appearance in the Rose Bowl Game since 2009 when USC defeated Penn State, 38-24.
Both teams are also playing in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time since receiving severe sanctions from the NCAA.
USC was banned from bowls for the 2010 and 2011 seasons and lost 10 scholarships per year for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons due to several major violations regarding former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
Penn State had a bowl ban and scholarship reductions for the 2012 and 2013 seasons in connection with a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
USC will be making its record 34th Rose Bowl Game appearance, although its participation in the 2006 game has been stricken from the records as a result of the sanctions involving Bush. The Trojans have a 24-9 on-field record and 24-8 official record in the Rose Bowl Game.
The Nittany Lions will make their fourth appearance in the Rose Bowl Game. They lost 14-3 to USC in the 1923 Rose Bowl Game, the first played at the Rose Bowl Stadium, in a game that started 50 minutes late because the Penn State team was stuck in traffic.
Penn State’s lone Rose Bowl Game victory was in 1995 when it defeated Oregon, 38-20.
The game is being played on Jan. 2 because of Tournament of Roses’ “Never on Sunday” policy, which began with the Rose Parade, then extended to the football game.
Officials decide to move the 1893 Rose Parade to Monday, Jan. 2 to avoid frightening horses tethered outside of local churches, which would interfere with Sunday services, according to the tournament’s website.
In 1922, the first time New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday when a Rose Bowl Game would have been played, it was moved to Monday.
This is the 14th time the Rose Bowl Game will be played on a Jan. 2 and first since 2012.
—City News Service
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