Based on their respective expectations heading into this season, it’s safe to say that few people would have predicted a matchup of Boston College and Southern Cal in the Emerald Bowl.
The Trojans, coming off seven straight trips to a BCS bowl, most recently a dominant victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl last season, were expected to once again contend for a national title. On the flip side, Boston College was expected to struggle this season after losing its head coach, best defender and starting quarterback from a team that finished 9-5 in 2008.
Yet even with the seemingly opposite trajectories of the two teams, players and coaches from both squads affirmed that Saturday’s Emerald Bowl will be a hotly-contested, competitive football game.
“Of course we’re a little disappointed in how our season went,” said USC safety Taylor Mays, a three-time All-America performer. “But that doesn’t take away anything from how we approach this game. We’d play Boston College tomorrow, in front of zero fans, just for the opportunity to go out and compete.”
Mays and the USC defense will play a key role in this year’s Emerald Bowl, which will kick off at 5 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Park. Historically one of stingiest units in the nation, the Trojans’ defense has looked creaky at times this season, especially against the run. In blowout losses to Pac-10 foes Oregon and Stanford, the Trojans gave up a combined 716 yards rushing.
It’s no secret that Boston College and coach Frank Spaziani, playing with a freshman QB and a 1,355-yard rusher in sophomore Montel Harris, will try to exploit USC’s susceptibility to strong running teams.
“I think it’s pretty obvious we’re going to try and establish the run first,” Eagles senior center Jeff Tennant said. “We’ve got a great running back, and we’re going to try and ride him.”
Along with its defensive shortcomings, the Trojans are dealing with questions on offense, especially since the status of 1,000-yard rusher Joe McKnight has been in limbo this week.
McKnight, the Trojans’ most explosive offensive threat this year, did not make the trip to San Francisco with his teammates on Monday, following allegations that he received improper benefits from a USC booster. Trojans coach Pete Carroll said that the school’s compliance office is investigating McKnight.
With the uncertainty surrounding the running game, USC will rely even more heavily on freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, who has looked impressive at times this season, but hasn’t thrown for more than 206 yards in a game since an
Oct. 17 win over Notre Dame.
Both teams enter the bowl game with impressive postseason records. USC has won six of its previous seven bowl games, while Boston College has won eight of its past nine.
Emerald Bowl matchup
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Past bowl winners
2008: Cal 24, Miami 17
2007: Oregon State 21, Maryland 14
2006: Florida State 44, UCLA 27
2005: Utah 38, Georgia Tech 10
2004: Navy 34, New Mexico 19
2003: Boston College 35, Colorado State 21
2002: Virginia Tech 20, Air Force 13
Note: San Francisco Bowl (’02-’03)
Ready for a gem: Boston College receiver Rich Gunnell should be one of the Eagles’ main targets in the team’s second appearance in the Emerald Bowl, where they beat Colorado State in 2003.