A season that began for USC with a stinker against Alabama will end with the Trojans smelling sweet roses.
In a turnaround few could have predicted, No. 9 USC will play in the Rose Bowl against No. 5 Penn State on Jan. 2 after starting the season 1-3.
“We are tremendously excited and proud to be invited to the 2017 Rose Bowl,” head coach Clay Helton said. “It is a great honor for our team to have the opportunity to represent our university and the Trojan Family in the Rose Bowl, a bowl in which we have such a long tradition.”
The Trojans ended the regular season on an eight-game win streak, enough for the College Football Playoff Committee to place them higher than Colorado — which is 10th — in the final rankings. USC is also ranked ahead of Colorado in the final AP Poll at No. 9, while the Buffaloes are No. 11.
“We are extremely thankful for the invitation,” Helton said. “It is a great reward for our football team after a very strong finish to the 2016 season.”
USC entered the weekend ranked 11th in the country, needing to leapfrog the eighth-ranked Buffaloes to become the highest-ranked Pac-12 team and earn a berth to Rose Bowl. But Colorado’s 41-10 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game gave the committee enough reason to drop the Buffaloes beneath the Trojans.
In an interview with ESPN, playoff committee chair Kirby Hocutt called USC “one of the most impressive teams in the country” and said the committee spent a “considerable” amount of time deciding between USC and Colorado for the Rose Bowl bid.
In doing so, it put the USC back in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009, when it also faced Penn State in a 35-24 win. The teams also played in the 1923 Rose Bowl, which was the first postseason appearance for both programs.
This snaps an eight-year Rose Bowl drought, which is tied for the longest in school history. The Trojans have historically dominated this bowl; this will be their record 34th appearance in the game. They have also made the Rose Bowl in the last 14 U.S. Presidential terms, with President Barack Obama now joining the list.
USC is 24-9 in its Rose Bowl history. It is the most wins by a school in a single bowl.
This appearance came after a stunning mid-season run that saw the Trojans jump from the bottom of the Pac-12 to a top-10 ranking nationally. The success coincided with Helton making a quarterback switch from redshirt junior Max Browne to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. Darnold led the Trojans to an 8-1 record after taking over, putting together one spectacular performance after another and changing the tone of the season.
The Trojans finish as the second highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 behind No. 4 Washington, which will play No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
Kickoff on Jan. 2 will be at 2 p.m. from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
“We congratulate Coach Franklin and the Penn State football team on their outstanding season and look forward to what should be a fun and compelling bowl matchup,” Helton said. “We can’t wait to see the Trojan Family in Pasadena on January 2.”