2009 Emerald Bowl Preview
Boston College (8-4, 5-3; ACC) vs. #23 Southern California (8-4, 5-4; Pac Ten)
December 26th, 2009 @ 8:00 PM (EST) – ESPN – San Francisco, California
San Francisco's Emerald Bowl will be the final matchup in this game between the Pac Ten and ACC, concluding a four year rivalry between the leagues. One of only two bowls to be played in a Major League Baseball stadium, the Emerald Bowl will host the most illustrious participant in its short history this season as USC makes their first postseason appearance in San Francisco.
Southern California had a disappointing 2009 campaign. The Trojans lost four games for the first time since Pete Carroll’s first year and their seven year BCS bowl streak has ended as well. After a strong start that included a victory at Rose Bowl-bound Ohio State, USC ran into a lot of injury issues and lost two games via blowout for the first time under Carroll. On top of that, USC also lost their first games in November and December during his tenure as well. However, it was inevitable that even mighty USC would have a rebuilding year after all of their success and this ‘down’ year counts as a great year for many other teams. Remember, Carroll is 96-19 with seven Pac Ten Championships and one (or two depending on your source) National Titles to his credit, so the Trojans are certainly not going away. Carroll has also been excellent in bowl games as he is 6-2 and riding a current three bowl winning streak.
One of the biggest issues with the Trojans this year was their surprisingly inept offense, which finished an unfathomable 64th in scoring with a mere 26.7 points per game. Partly attributable to true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley and partly attributable to a rash of injuries, USC’s passing game was only 68th in the country while their rushing attack was only 40th. With all the injuries and youth, a multi-week break could turn out to be what the obviously talented Trojan offense needs to put together a strong game.
The good news is that USC’s defense didn’t wholly abandon them when the offensive going got tough, finishing 22nd in the country in scoring defense at 20.4 points per game. However, the Trojans were no better than slightly above average as they finished 42nd against the run, 53rd against the pass and 67th in takeaways. Most worrisome was their showing in two of their losses, where Oregon and Stanford combined to score 102 points, a total that seemed impossible coming into the year. Despite their struggles, the young Trojan defense should also benefit from rest and a few weeks of fundamentals and I expect them to be at their best the day after Christmas.
Boston College continues to field the same team every year, regardless of who the coach or players are. The Eagles are always lightly regarded heading into the season yet they manage to play strong defense, protect the football, remain extremely disciplined and end up winning eight or nine games. That trend continued this year as Frank Spazziani took over as head coach and promptly led his team to an 8-4 record, highlighted once more by an excellent defensive showing. Spazziani has a little bit of history in charge of the Eagles: He led them to victory in the 2006 Car Care Bowl as interim head coach and Boston College’s recent bowl record has been excellent while he was the defensive coordinator: Prior to last year’s loss in the Music City Bowl, the Eagles had won eight consecutive bowl games!
Boston College’s offense was its typically average self this year, finishing 71st nationally in scoring at 25.8 points per game while struggling on the ground (69th) and through the air (94th). However, they also turned the ball over 24 times, leading to a negative turnover margin on the year. In short, this offense really isn’t very good and tailback Montel Harris, who ran for 1,355 yards and 13 touchdowns, is the only major threat, making them very one-dimensional.
On the other hand, their defense was excellent all year, allowing only 19.4 points per game to finish 18th in the country. The Eagles’ strong defense was highlighted by their 15th ranked run defense, which was exceptional despite the loss of All-American linebacker Mark Herzlich in the preseason due to cancer treatment. In typical Boston College fashion, freshman Luke Kuechly stepped right in and only finished 2nd in the country in tackles! The Eagles were a bit more vulnerable against the pass, finishing 55th, but a lot of teams had no option but to throw the ball due to their stellar front and that dragged their rating down. This is a very good defensive squad and USC will have to improve to move the ball against them with any consistency.
This game features two great defenses and both teams bring a lot to the table. Both schools have very strong recent bowl histories and both should be raring to go in this contest, USC to redeem themselves after an average season and Boston College to cap off another unexpectedly strong year. While some might question USC’s motivation after being used to playing in BCS bowls ever year, I think that Pete Carroll’s emotional style and strong bowl track record will play in their favor. Furthermore, Boston College has to travel the entire way across the country to play this game and distance could partially explain the Pac Ten’s winning mark in the last three years.
With two solid defenses, expect a low-scoring game in San Francisco. However, USC has a major talent edge on offense and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Trojans put together a strong showing, especially talented wide receiver Damian Williams (one of the nation’s most dangerous returners and Barkley’s top target) in what will likely be his swan song as a Trojan. Furthermore, I have a lot of difficulty seeing the turnover-prone and one dimensional Eagle offense putting any significant numbers on the scoreboard and that is really going to be the difference in this game. Expect a young Southern California team to put together a solid team effort and use this game to kick start a more successful 2010 season. USC will win this game thanks to their dominant defense and a big game from Williams.
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