WHO: No. 5 Penn State (11-2) vs. No. 9 USC (9-3)
WHAT: The 103rd Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
WHEN: 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
THE SKINNY: The Granddaddy of Them All is not a College Football Playoff Semifinal this season but it has that that sort of feel with a high caliber matchup between two of the hottest teams in the country that each has a pretty good case to be in the final four.
The Nittany Lions head West as Big Ten champions after a magical run that included beating Ohio State in a thriller and Wisconsin in the conference title game thanks to a remarkable comeback. The team has not skipped much of a beat defensively from last year behind defensive end Garrett Sickels (12.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks) and safety Marcus Allen (101 tackles) but it’s the offense that has really helped spark the team’s run to the roses.
Quarterback Trace McSorley has really impressed with 25 touchdown passes against just five interceptions on the year and forms a potent backfield tandem with tailback Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Head coach James Franklin has done a masterful job of bringing this team together to regroup from some painful early losses to finish the season playing as well as anybody but there’s still one task left on the table for Penn State to accomplish.
That would involve beating USC, who is no stranger to starting off the year in ugly fashion. The Trojans made it through the first month of the season with a 1-3 record and plenty of talk that the school needed to fire recently named head coach Clay Helton. Instead the team lived up to their motto and fought on, running off eight straight wins that included a throttling of playoff participant Washington up in Seattle.
A change at quarterback has proven to be the spark that set the team off and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold is a key cog to USC’s recent success, looking less like a young signal-caller and more like some of the big time QB’s who have come through the program in recent years. He’s able to lean on an experienced offensive line and has a deep stable of playmakers to distribute the ball to, including wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back Ronald Jones II. Defensively, Thorpe Award winner and superstar return man Adoree’ Jackson headlines a talented group of players that can throw just about every look out there that you can imagine.
All that makes for one of the most compelling games of the postseason as the two teams return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since meeting back in 2009 (a 35-24 USC win). Each program has been through the ringer of NCAA sanctions and extensive coaching turnover since that point and will be looking to show the rest of the country that they are back among the college football elite with a win. Talent favors the Trojans in this one but the Nittany Lions haven’t let that stop them this year and won’t go without a fight to begin 2017 in what should be a fantastic game.
THE PICK: USC 34, Penn State 27
It had been thought that, despite moving on from Kentucky, Eli Brown could very well end up staying in the commonwealth. This weekend, those thoughts proved prophetic.
On his personal Twitter account Saturday evening, Brown confirmed that he would be continuing his collegiate playing career at Western Kentucky. The announcement comes almost exactly six weeks after the linebacker had confirmed he would be transferring from Kentucky.
A four-star member of UK’s 2015 recruiting class, Brown was rated as the No. 20 outside linebacker in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Kentucky according to 247Sports.com. Brown was the highest-rated player in the Wildcats’ class that year.
After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Brown played in 12 games in 2016. Because of injuries to others, the 6-2, 215-pound redshirt sophomore started five games this past season and was seemingly in line for significant playing time in 2018 prior to his decision to transfer.
Iowa football finished just 8-5 last season but their biggest win for the school might have been at the box office.
A $4 million boost in ticket sales for the Hawkeyes played a big role in the athletic department finishing in the black during the most recent fiscal year, according to documents obtained by Landof10.com. It is the first time Iowa has shown a profit in three years as a result.
“When you look at the trends across the country in football attendance and basketball attendance, just nationally there seems to be a reduction,” athletics director Gary Barta told the site. “So I’m pleased generally that we’re holding our own. It seems to fluctuate a little bit more depending on good season/bad season. But for the most part we still have that core of support that’s as good as anywhere.”
Iowa managed a whopping $130.68 million in revenue overall according to reports given to the NCAA and spent around $128.9 million in the same time frame. A good chunk of that cash came as a result of the football program, including the school-record $23.7 million in football ticket sales.
Even with cost increases and salary spikes, it seems like the trend of finishing revenue positive for the department is likely to continue given the massive increases coming the way of Big Ten schools the next few years in television revenue from the conference. As big as some of the numbers put up by the Hawkeyes are though, they still trail others like Texas and Texas A&M by nearly $70 million in the last fiscal year.
It’s hard to believe that prior to last season, UAB didn’t have a football team for two years. As successful as the Blazers re-launch in the sport has been though, the next step for the program to truly be competitive in the sports landscape might have just happened on the desk of the governor this week.
AL.com notes that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a new tax law for Jefferson County that would provide a significant sum of money for a new UAB football stadium as well as other improvements to the sprawling Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) that already houses the arena for the program’s basketball teams.
Though there has been no contractual commitment to build the stadium just yet, the passing of the tax bill to provide some of the revenues needed is one of the first steps local leaders were hoping for. Current plans have the authorities responsible looking at building a 45,000-55,000 seat stadium for UAB football at an estimated cost of $175 million. The school is expected to chip in nearly $4 million a year toward the cost in lease payments.
It’s unclear as to the exact site of the potential stadium but it is expected to be in the downtown area somewhere near the current BJCC complex. It goes without saying that any new stadium, even an off campus such as this one, would be a massive upgrade from the Blazers current home Legion Field.
With the new law out of the way, the next steps appear to reside with local authorities to finalize plans and firmly commit to building the new venue. Construction on the new stadium is expected to begin in December of 2018 once the final green light is given.
Needless to say, UAB football is not only back but it certainly appears better than ever given this recent bit of news.
Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne seems to have shifted the Crimson Tide’s scheduling philosophy from having big neutral site openers for the football team to instead scheduling opponents the team has recently beat for a national title.
Following up their earlier report that said Alabama is looking to set up a home-and-home with historic power Notre Dame, the Tuscaloosa News says the school is also in discussions with Texas for a similar arrangement.
“I’ll say that we are exploring some home-and-homes,” a very coy Byrne told the paper.
The Irish lost to Nick Saban and the Tide in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game while the Longhorns fell out at the Rose Bowl to Alabama in the 2009 title game. The program is currently set to open with Louisville in Orlando for their 2018 opener while Duke (in 2019) and Miami (in 2021) are scheduled for games against the Tide in Atlanta. Outside of those three games and a handful of others against Group of Five opponents though, the schedule is otherwise wide open.
Texas is a different story on that front though as the Longhorns have games at Maryland and home against USC for the upcoming campaign and future dates with LSU (2019, 2020), Arkansas (2021), Ohio State (2022, 2023) and Michigan (2024, 2027). There is room for a home-and-home in 2025 and 2026 however.
Given this flurry of scheduling news and what looks to be a big change in philosophy, it seems like a home-and-home with Clemson is next up on the docket for Byrne and Saban to get done and really make beat-you-for-the-title-schedule-you-later thing an actual thing.