WHO: USC (8-4) vs. Iowa (9-3)
WHAT: The 32nd Holiday Bowl
WHEN: December 27th at 9 p.m. ET on FS1
WHERE: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, California
THE SKINNY: There may be bigger-stakes games out there but few come close to being as intriguing as this Pac-12/Big Ten matchup in this bowl season as two brand-name programs square off hoping to end up-and-down years on a high note.
As always, drama has followed USC at just about every turn in 2019. The Trojans lost starting QB J.T. Daniels early on but found a revelation in freshman signal-caller Kedon Slovis (3,242 yards, 28 TDs, 9 INTs), who was superb down the stretch — five wins in their last six — to keep the team in the running for the division title. Embattled head coach Clay Helton looked for many weeks as though he were a lame duck in charge but got a reprieve from the school’s new administration last month, allowing some signs of relief around the program in confirming he’d be back (albeit on a hot seat) for 2020. While there are concerns defensively with this team, coordinator Graham Harrell has produced one of the more fun offenses in the country to watch with weapons all over the place that can take it to the house with just a sliver of open field.
On the opposite sideline is a bastion of stability in Kirk Ferentz’ program. The Hawkeyes have played the bulk of the top-tier conference teams close and only have three losses coming into the Holiday Bowl — all to Top-20 teams. Iowa’s defense is once again a strong suit as star pass rusher A.J. Epenesa (nine sacks) has continued to look like a terror off the edge and a future Top-10 NFL draft pick. Don’t sleep on the other side of the ball, though, as QB Nate Stanley is one of the Big Ten’s most overlooked passers and will be hoping to close out his career with a four-game winning streak.
All of which should combine to make one of the more historically-fun bowl games that much more of a must-see. Key in this one might be turnovers, as whoever winds up winning that battle has a good chance of making the biggest dent on the scoreboard. The Hawkeyes’ pass defense (ranked 10th nationally) matching up against the deep crop of Trojans receivers (led by stud Michael Pittman Jr.) is also already drawing NFL scouts’ focus in this one — if Slovis has time to get passes off with Epenesa and others barreling down on him. More than anything, this one just has so much potential to be a wild one with twists and turns galore for both sides of a pretty even matchup coming in.
These two programs haven’t met since the 2003 Orange Bowl, a lopsided USC win that kicked off a dynastic run under Pete Carroll. Both schools are in a different state nationally coming into this meeting out West but the opportunity to notch 10 wins for Iowa or put 2019’s craziness behind for USC offers a college football fan plenty of reason to tune in to the Holiday Bowl on Friday night.
THE PICK: Trojans 31, Hawkeyes 30