LOS ANGELES — Penn State has a chance to win 12 games for only the fourth time in school history.
The Nittany Lions (11-2) have won nine straight games, and will face Southern Cal (9-3), winners of eight in a row, on Monday in the Rose Bowl. Penn State previously won 12 games in 1973, 1986 and 1994. Of those campaigns, only 1986 ended with a national championship. Penn State also capped the 1994 season with a win at the Rose Bowl against Oregon.
“I’ve been fortunate to be on staffs or coaching or playing on a number of 10-win seasons,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think they’re special seasons. I’ve been a part of 11-win seasons. I’ve never been a part of a 12-win season. To me, that’s a different threshold. You have 12-win seasons, and there’s only a handful of teams in the country that are going to do that. That’s special.
“I asked the entire organization in a team meeting, anybody that’s been a part of a 12-win season in college before, stand up, and there was only three or four people that stood up. So that’s something that’s significant.”
This is the first time in a major bowl game for both of these programs since they met in Pasadena after the 2008 season. Both have had scandals and severe NCAA sanctions since.
Both teams began the 2016 slow, but are now two of the hottest teams in the nation. Southern Cal redshirt freshman QB Sam Darnold started against Utah in a game that dropped the Trojans to 1-3, but has been the linchpin for USC roaring back into the top 10 of the rankings since.
Trace McSorley has 20 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions since Penn State started the season 2-2.
“If I’m a fan, I’m getting a big box of popcorn and a Coke and enjoying it,” USC coach Clay Helton said of the quarterback matchup. “You’re talking about two kids that just have — it’s hard to explain — I always call it the ‘it’ factor. They just have it. They’re winners. They find a way to make their teams successful. They help their teams win very tough games in critical moments.”
Penn State beat College Football Playoff participant Ohio State and toppled Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Southern Cal did not play in the Pac-12 title game, but beat both participants in the game, CFP semifinalist Washington and Colorado.
Given the amount of talent expected to return, both of these teams are likely to ranked among the top teams in the nation at the start of the 2017 season. But first they will meet to close out the 2016 season. Here’s how you can catch it:
Penn State vs. Southern Cal game time, details
Time: 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. local) kickoff
Date: Jan. 2, 2017
Location: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.
Weather: 53 degrees at kickoff, cloudy, 15-percent chance of rain
The line: Southern Cal is favored by 7 points. The over-under is 59.5.
What TV channel is Penn State-Southern Cal on?
The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
How can I watch Penn State-Southern Cal online?
WatchESPN will stream the game.
How can I listen to Penn State-Southern Cal on the radio?
You can listen to the game on Sirius/XM channel 80. It will also be on ESPNRadio. Here are Penn State’s list of radio affiliates.
Who is calling the game for ESPN?
It will be broadcast by Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, with Sam Ponder and Tom Rinaldi on the sidelines.
Penn State vs. Southern Cal keys to the game
Protect QB Trace McSorley
Penn State’s downfield passing attack has been awesome in the second half of the season, but USC has the best front seven the Nittany Lions have faced since at least the Ohio State game. The Trojans are big and fast, and the Penn State patchwork offensive line is going to need to create some time for McSorley to throw downfield.
Protect the football
The Trojans have scored at least 41 points six times, including five in the past eight contests. Penn State has turned the ball over just seven times in the past nine games, and is plus-7 in turnover margin in those contests. Franklin preaches winning the turnover battle and the explosive-play battle. That won’t be easy against this USC team.
Protect the Big Ten’s reputation
The Big Ten is 2-5 in bowl games so far, and while that is pretty meaningless, the league has had better days than this past weekend, when Ohio State got throttled by Clemson on Saturday night and Michigan came back in a great Orange Bowl before falling to Florida State the night before. If the Nittany Lions also lose, having four teams in the top 10 for the second half of the season is going to be diminished. Most importantly, Penn State just needs to play well to continue building toward 2017.