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December 25, 2009
EMERALD BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Boston College rush offense vs. USC rush defense: BC's Montel Harris ran for 1,355 yards and 13 touchdowns, including 151 carries and 599 yards in the past five games. The rest of the team has 33 carries over that span. USC ranked 42nd in the nation in rush defense, but held eight opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Allowing more than 300 yards to Oregon and Stanford is a sure-fire way to wreck the average.
Boston College pass offense vs. USC pass defense: This is not Matt Ryan's Boston College. When BC's passing attack is bad, it's a disaster. Dave Shinskie, a 25-year-old true freshman, has a 1-for-12 day against Virginia Tech, a three-interception game against Notre Dame and a four-pick day against North Carolina on his resume. USC led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency defense. While the conference didn't have many elite dropback passers, it had several better than Shinskie.
USC run offense vs. Boston College run defense: USC could be forced to scramble at running back; Joe McKnight, USC's first 1,000-yard back since Reggie Bush and LenDale White reached that plateau in 2005, likely will miss the bowl game. Next up is Allen Bradford, who rushed for 596 yards and eight touchdowns in his first full season at running back. C.J. Gable's role has been reduced dramatically, but he could make a return appearance if McKnight is not available for the bowl game. As usual, Boston College has been strong against the run, allowing only 104 yards per game. Freshman linebacker Luke Kuechly was a revelation this season after recording 142 tackles.
USC pass offense vs. Boston College pass defense: True freshman QB Matt Barkley started with a bang by leading a game-winning drive at Ohio State in Columbus. But he threw nine picks and eight TD passes in the second half of the season. WR Damian Williams is dangerous, but Barkley will miss TE Anthony McCoy and OT Tyron Smith, who are academically ineligible for the bowl. Boston College recorded 13 interceptions this season but had just 17 sacks.
Boston College special teams vs. USC special teams: Boston College K Steve Aponavicius has limited range but missed only one kick, finishing 13-of-14 on field-goal attempts and perfect on extra points. USC's Jordan Congdon made 11 of 14 field goals. The Trojans were lackluster on kick coverage and kickoff returns, but they made up for it on punt returns and punt coverage. Damian Williams returned two punts for touchdowns and the coverage unit held opponents to 2.5 yards per return. BC's kickoff coverage was solid, the punt coverage adequate.
Boston College coaching staff vs. USC coaching staff: Both coaches are used to winning bowl games. Carroll has won six of eight bowl games at USC, and all six wins have come in BCS games. Spaziani is a first-year head coach, but he was on the Boston College staff for each of its eight consecutive bowl wins from 1999-2007. He actually led Boston College to a win over Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2006 as an interim coach between stints by Tom O'Brien and Jeff Jagodzinski.
X-factor: USC's motivation bears watching. The Trojans are 6-2 in bowls under Carroll, with a 10-6 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl in his first season and a 41-38 loss to Vince Young-led Texas in the 2005 national championship game the only blemishes. But USC also has a track record of inconsistent focus against unranked teams. And how psyched is USC going to be about a second-tier bowl?
Boston College will win if: Harris has to be productive. Harris has shown he can handle a demanding workload and carry Boston College to victory. USC has had lapses against elite running teams in Oregon and Stanford. BC isn't in the same class, but Harris and the Eagles are capable of putting up some yards against the Trojans' defense.
USC will win if: Barkley needs to rediscover his early season magic. The extra practice time since the end of the regular season could give Barkley a chance to regroup after his struggles late in the season. And if McKnight doesn't play, that puts more pressure on Barkley.