USC (9-3) vs Penn State (11-2)
Penn State shocked everyone by winning the Big Ten this year. Many people believed that Penn State deserved a spot in the playoffs over Ohio State due to their victory over them. USC, meanwhile, started slow and Clay Helton almost lost his job before the Trojans got hot and rattled off eight wins in a row to close the season - including impressive wins against Washington and Colorado.
When USC Has The Ball: JuJu Smith Schuster is one of the best playmaking receivers in college football, and a near certain first round pick in April. Once Helton made the quarterback switch to freshman Sam Darnold and Smith-Schuster was able to get the ball more consistently, he really shined. Penn State has a very good pass defense, however, that is driven by their pass rush. Although no single player has more than 6 sacks, the team as a whole is averaging 3 sacks per game. With a freshman quarterback USC will need to maintain the stellar pass blocking play of their offensive line (.92 sacks per game allowed.)
When Penn State Has The Ball: This should be the Saquon Barkley show. Barkley averaged 100 yards per game, over 5 yards per carry, and scored 16 touchdowns as a runner this year. He also added 350 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. Chris Godwin and Matt Gesicki are the main weapons through the air and the receiver/tight end combination offer the Nittany Lions multiple receiving options that can move the chains consistently. Trojan defensive back Adoree Jackson will be a key player for USC’s defense.
Analysis: The best battle should be the Trojan offensive line versus the Penn State front 7. Penn State will need to get to the quarterback to keep Smith-Schuster contained. I’m also curious to see how USC plans to stop Barkley, or slow him down. While USC is better on third down then Penn State they are not as disciplined a team. With a negative turnover margin and 30 more yards per game in penalty yards against the Trojans, Penn State should be able to pull out another close fought victory.
Prediction: Penn State 27 USC 21