The Obvious from San Diego: Having not met since the 2003 Orange Bowl (photo above) in Miami, the CFP No. 22 USC Trojans (8-4 overall, 7-2 Pac-12), representatives of the Pac-12 Conference, renew their series with the CFP No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes (9-3 overall, 6-3 Big Ten), representatives from the Big Ten Conference, on Friday night (5 pm PT) in the 42nd annual SDCCU Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif.
The Not So Obvious: Both the Trojans and Iowa are teams that won five of their final six games of 2019. However, that’s where the comparisons end. The Trojans have had a tumultuous past several weeks regarding the status of head coach Clay Helton, who has since been given another season (2020) to improve his program by USC President Carol Folt and her athletic director Mike Bohn. On the other hand, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is a model of consistency having been the Hawkeyes’ head man for the past 21 seasons. Many see the Trojans football program as undisciplined, which is the complete opposite of the acknowledged disciplined program under Ferentz. However, this is not a seven-game series, and in a one-shot event, the team that plays the best and avoids turnovers will likely win.
The Obvious: The Iowa Hawkeyes opened a 2 ½ – point favorite to defeat the USC Trojans.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans hold a 7-2 series edge over the Hawkeyes and have outscored Iowa, 282-91. Winners of five of their last six games, the Trojans and Hawkeyes meet for the first time in 17 years. They last collided back in the 2003 Orange Bowl, a game the Trojans won decisively, 38-17, and helped launch Pete Carroll’s decade of USC national dominance. This season’s Trojans are in the Top 20 offensively while Iowa’s tough defense ranks in the Top 20. The Trojans have a big edge in its series versus Iowa, including a six-game winning streak and against the Big Ten (13 wins in the last 15 games). This will be the Trojans sixth visit to the SDCCU Holiday Bowl in the past six seasons.
The Obvious: Friday night’s game will be televised on FS1 (5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The FS1 broadcasters will be Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst) and Jenny Taft (sidelines).
The Obvious: Friday night’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast from SDCCU Stadium will air live on KABC 790 AM (5:00 p.m. PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody and John Jackson (analysts) and Jordan Moore (sideline).
The Trojans’ overall KABC AM 790 broadcast from the SDCCU Holiday Bowl will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 3:00 p.m. (PT). The pregame broadcast crew will consist of Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The Not So Obvious: The Iowa broadcast (7 p.m. CT) can be heard on KRUI with Gary Dolphin (play-by-play), Ed Podolak (analyst), and Rob Brooks (sideline).
Friday night’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 83/83) with Jon Schaeffer and Rich Ohrnberger or online channel (83) and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: Friday’s San Diego weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 61 degrees, a low of 46 degrees, 66% humidity, and 10% precipitation. Temperature for the 5 p.m. (PT) is expected to be clear and 56 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Iowa Hawkeyes are too physical for the Trojans or have “out-practiced them” in their respective coach’s bowl practice philosophy. The Trojans are again playing a Big Ten team and will be tested as it pertains to their manhood. We know what happened the last time the Trojans played a powerful Big Ten team, a major physical beating by Ohio State in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. Iowa is not as skilled as the Buckeyes, but they certainly can bring the wood. We’ll also find out whether this very disciplined Hawkeyes team takes advantage of a Trojans team that is – to be nice – consistently undisciplined.
Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can get past a stingy and physical Hawkeye defense, which is fifth nationally in scoring defense, 10th in pass defense, 12th in total defense and 25th in rushing defense. The Trojans 2019 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, quarterback Kedon Slovis, may be facing his greatest challenge in attacking this defensive group of Hawkeyes. On the other hand, it’s not likely that Iowa has seen this type of offensive attack in the Big Ten unless you point to Purdue, which had success through the air.
The Trojans bring what is arguably the top receiving corps in the country, led by senior Biletnikoff finalist Michael Pittman Jr. along with sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown, junior Tyler Vaughns, and freshman prodigy Drake London. If the Trojans standout running backs, consisting of senior Vavae Malepeai, junior Stephen Carr, and freshmen Kenan Christon, can get assistance from their offensive line, it will help. According to Clay Helton, it doesn’t look like running back Markese Stepp will see action because he’s still recovering from ankle surgery. A major key to the game is whether the Trojans’ offensive line, led by junior All-Pac-12 offensive tackle and potential high NFL draft pick, Austin Jackson, can neutralize the powerful Iowa defensive front. We’ll find out whether starting grad transfer right tackle Drew Richmond can go (foot) on Friday night, but if he can’t, expect sophomore right guard Jalen McKenzie to fill in at right tackle with junior Liam Jimmons replacing McKenzie at guard.
We’ll see whether the Trojans offense can neutralize Iowa’s senior MLB Kristian Welch (80 tac.) and sophomore S Jack Koerner (73 tac.), both of whom top the team in tackles, while junior two-time All-Big Ten first-team DE A.J. Epenesa (6-6, 280) is in the nation’s Top 20 in forced fumbles and sacks. A particular good match-up to watch will be whether Trojans heralded tackle Austin Jackson can win his one-on-one battles with Iowa’s great defensive lineman AJ Epenesa. They competed against each other as high school seniors in the prestigious All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Defensively, we’ll find out whether the Trojans’ defense can stifle Iowa’s offense, which would best be described as low-powered. However, in typical Big Ten style, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defensive front, led by sophomore All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Jay Tufele, can handle Iowa’s physical offensive line led by stud offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 322), who was the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. Expect the Hawkeyes to attempt to impose their rushing will against the Men of Troy.
Whether the Trojans’ defense can dictate the Hawkeyes’ offense is up in the air. Leading Iowa is three-year starting senior QB Nate Stanley, who is backed up by WRs Nico Ragaini, a redshirt freshman, redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy, junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette,and junior Brandon Smith. The have combined for 155 catches and 13 TDs this year. As for the Iowa ground game, RBs Tyler Goodson, a freshman, junior Mekhi Sargent and junior Toren Young have combined for 1,500-plus rushing yards and nine TDs.
On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll find out whether the Trojans excellent sophomore placekicker Chase McGrath can neutralize Iowa’s celebrated junior All-American PK Keith Duncan, the Big Ten’s Kicker of the Year and a finalist for the Groza Award. Duncan tops the nation in field goals (his 29 field goals this season are a Big Ten record).
The Obvious: The Trojans offense averages 33.2 points while the Iowa defense allows 13.2 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: Iowa’s offense averages 23.8 points per game while the Trojans’ defense allows 27.8 points per outing.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach, who surprised many when it was announced he would return as the USC head coach in 2020.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding Iowa, Helton says, “I
think they do a tremendous job of limiting your possessions. They work as a
team. When you look at the numbers, to be plus-six in turnover margin, very
limited in penalties. I think the total number of plays guys are averaging a
game is 64 plays a game. You’re not getting a tremendous amount of possessions.
Thus, the scores are down. You’re looking at games 24-22, 10-3, 12-10. You’re
talking about a defense that really does a nice job.
“But they play great team football. You look at them on third downs, their defense gets off the field. If you’re not performing on third down, you’re in a world of hurt. I think they’re one of the best execution-based defenses that we’ve seen. They don’t do a bunch, but they do everything extremely well. Their kids are disciplined. They do their assignments correctly. They play with great fundamentals and technique. They do it over and over and over and over again all the way through the game. Very well-coached.”
The Obvious: Kirk Ferentz is the 21-year head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Not So Obvious: Commenting on the Trojans, Ferentz said, “I can speak for our team. They’re all excited about the opportunity to come to a great city like this, and more importantly a great bowl game. They’ve heard about the great hospitality, all the things that are available. Obviously, an opportunity to play against a storied program like USC. When we look at the film, they’ve got great players, very well-coached. We know we have a huge challenge on our hands. It’s going to take our absolute best. We’re thrilled about every part of this, know we have a big challenge.
“If I had to live in a world with those 48-39 (scoring) games, I don’t know if I’d last 10 years. Those games kill you. I remember we played Penn State in 1983, I think it was 42-38. It felt like we had been in a marathon. I hate those kinds of games. Hopefully, we’re not in one this week. I don’t know. With the way these guys move the ball and score, I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.”
The Obvious: The Trojans have a history of being one of the greatest bowl teams in college football history.
The Not So Obvious: For the record, the Trojans have appeared in 52 bowl games and have been victorious 34 times.
The Obvious: For bowl games, game officials are not from the conferences of the respective teams.
The Not So Obvious: For the SDCCU Holiday Bowl, the game officials will be from the ACC and the referee will be Jerry Magallenes.
The Obvious: Every bowl team has a post-regular season media guide.
The Not So Obvious: On the cover of the Trojans SDCCU Holiday Bowl media guide is DL Jay Tufele, WR Michael Pittman Jr., QB Kedon Slovis, and OLT Austin Jackson.
The Obvious: The Trojans recruit nationally and have had some recruiting success in Iowa.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have had 10 lettermen from Iowa, which include RE Ward Browning (1932-34) of Sioux City East HS; OG Joel Crisman (1990-93) of Grundy Center HS; T Clarke DeGroot (1924-26) of Humboldt HS; T Robert Erskine (1931-33) of Ottumwa HS; E William J. Gill (1934-35) from Des Moines; RT Robert Hendren (1946-48) of Clarinda HS; RG Pete Kalinich (1939) of Waterloo East HS; DT Jim Phillips (1983) of Des Moines Roosevelt HS, who transferred to USC from Iowa; T Alfred Plaehn(1930-32) of Reinbeck HS; and LT Howard Stoecker (1937-39) of Mason City HS. Also, HB Rudy Bukich (1951-52) transferred to USC from Iowa State.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for the USC Trojans is true freshman Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200).
The Not So Obvious: Slovis, who is one of the great stories in college football, was really a no-name, 3-star recruit out of Arizona and was considered at the time of his signing a backup talent. Through the injury to original starter JT Daniels, Slovis shocked the Pac-12 Conference with some outstanding performances and thus was named the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. As refreshing as was his athletic ability, the freshman remains today a very humble yet a very positive force on the team.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Iowa is senior Nate Stanley, is a native of Menomonie, Wisconsin (Menomonie HS).
The Not So Obvious: Stanley (6-4, 243) is starting his third bowl game. He is one of five quarterbacks in program history to start three bowl games. Chuck Long started four (2-2), and Max Sherman (2-1), Drew Tate (1-2), and Ricky Stanzi (3-0) started three. Stanley is making his 39th consecutive start at quarterback (26-12).
The Obvious: The Trojans recruit heavily in the San Diego area.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have five players on their current roster from San Diego. They include TB Kenan Christon (Madison HS), CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart (Helix HS), S Richard Hagestad (Bishop’s School), QB Trevor Scully (La Jolla HS) and WR Chris Caulk (Cathedral Catholic HS/San Diego Mesa JC).
The Obvious: The Trojans have no players on their roster from the state of Iowa.
The Not So Obvious: Iowa has one Californian on its roster, quarterback Spencer Petras from Marin Catholic HS in Greenbrae.
The Obvious: Friday night’s game again Iowa will be played on Dec. 27.
The Not So Obvious: The only previous time the Trojans have played on Dec. 27 was the 2014 Holiday Bowl, a 45-42 win over Nebraska.
The Obvious: Until television took over, Friday night was not normally a night in which college football games were played.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans and Hawkeyes have played once before on a Friday back in 1950. It was a night affair in the Coliseum, when the Hawkeyes upset the No. 12 Trojans, 20-14.
The Obvious: Howard Jones is considered one of the Trojans’ greatest head football coaches.
The Not So Obvious: The coaching legendary Jones(1925-40), who won four national championships and five Rose Bowls with his “Thundering Herd” teams at Troy, also was Iowa’s head coach (1916-23), where he won the 1921 national title. He also served as the Hawkeyes athletic director (1917-24) and baseball coach (1919).
The Obvious: In the last CFP Poll, the Hawkeyes were rated No. 16 while the Trojans were No. 22.
The Not So Obvious: Because Iowa is the higher ranked team, they’re considered the home team and will don their home uniforms, which means the Trojans will be attired in their visiting white uniforms.
The Obvious: And finally, one of the Trojans more famous alumni is actor/comedian Will Ferrell.
The Not So Obvious: If you’re looking for one last USC connection with the San Diego community, who will ever forget Ferrell’s portrayal of the fictional newscaster Ron Burgundy in the movie, “Anchorman”? And BTW, did you know that Ferrell is a former USC sports information intern? Guess you probably knew that.