TSX Picks the Emerald Bowl

USC Freshman QB Matt Barkley

Two teams from opposite coasts will clash in this year's Emerald Bowl. The expectations for the two squads couldn't have been farther apart to begin the year. Which will use this bowl game to springboard into 2010?

BOSTON COLLEGE (8-4) vs. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (8-4)
Emerald Bowl
Dec. 26, 8 p.m. ET
ESPN

INSIDE THE CAMPS

BOSTON COLLEGE

Call this playing with house money for Boston College.

Coming into the season, BC, fresh off another coaching change, was picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division. The Eagles weren't supposed to win more than four or five games.

They won eight. A rousing success by any measure.

On the other side of the Dec. 26 Emerald Bowl matchup, USC was No. 3 in the country coming into the season. The Trojans also won eight games, but they are a disappointing 8-4 heading into the bowl game.

Now BC enters the bowl game as a heavy underdog.

"I think it's good for our program," BC coach Frank Spaziani said. "It's interesting, and I think it's good. Perfect timing. Whenever you play somebody like that, it gets everybody's attention."

The schools had already signed to play in 2013 and '14, but they'll get a jump on that.

An added bonus for BC will be not having to play a Bay Area team in the game at San Francisco. While the Eagles still have to travel across the country for Christmas, they won't be a pure road team playing against a Cal or a Stanford. USC doesn't have to travel as far, but they're not home, either.

"I think we came down on the side of, 'Let's have somebody new that we haven't had.' And it may be the only opportunity we have to get SC," Spaziani said.

The Eagles, who have won eight of their last nine bowl games and are playing in a bowl for the 11th straight year, come into this game healthier than they have been all season, with the time between games helping take care of the bumps and bruises picked up late in the 12-game regular season.

USC

With the way USC played down the stretch of the season -- losing three of its last five games, sputtering on offense and lacking apparent emotion in the regular-season finale against Arizona -- this might not be the best time for coach Pete Carroll to be making guarantees.

But Carroll is always pumped up, and he just might be able to pass on his evergreen enthusiasm as the Trojans step down to the Emerald Bowl against Boston College after several years of being in the national championship discussion.

"Our players like to work out, they love to play games," Carroll said. " I can guarantee you that they're going to play this game like it's the national championship game."

USC takes an 8-4 record into the Emerald Bowl, trying to overcome a frustrating season in which it failed to transition from massive personnel losses on defense and to true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley on offense.

Was it just a one-year blip? These kind of seasons happen, eventually, to most top programs.

"We're going to be fine," junior receiver Damian Williams told the Los Angeles Daily News. "The team's going bounce back. You look at Florida two years ago, they played Michigan in the Capital One Bowl? Then the next year they won the national championship."

More from Williams: "I mean UCLA was a dynasty in basketball for ever, so what happened in the years they didn't win a championship. They're still a great team. Stuff like that, it just happens sometimes. You can't always been on top. As much as you strive to always be on top, and be great, sometimes you just can't."

While the Trojans deal with a disappointing season, Boston College overachieved in its 8-4 season. So, there is a definite difference in how the teams feel about being in the Emerald Bowl.

Carroll said the team can recapture the feeling that it is going to win every game. But will that start with this bowl?

"How long? I don't know. Can we do it next year? I don't know," Carroll said in the L.A. Times. "But we're going to go after it and see what happens."

KEY MATCHUPS

USC RB Allen Bradford vs. Boston College LB Luke Kuechly.

Bradford is a strong, powerful force who scored half of his eight touchdowns in the past three games. Kuechly, a true freshman, leads Boston College with 142 tackles and was selected the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

USC DT Jurrell Casey vs. Boston College C Matt Tennant.

Casey, a promising sophomore, has 54 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Tennant is a second-team Walter Camp All-American.

USC FS Taylor Mays vs. Boston College QB Dave Shinskie.

Mays is known much more for his hitting than his ball-hawking skills (two interceptions in the past three seasons), but Shinskie has been interception-prone (13 interceptions in 255 pass attempts). Mays, a senior, would love to pick off a pass or two to impress the NFL scouts.

NAMES TO KNOW

BOSTON COLLEGE

RB Montel Harris -- He's gone over 2,000 yards in his first two years at BC. Harris has run for 1,355 yards this season, the sixth-best total in BC history, and he needs less than 100 yards in the bowl game to move up to No. 4 on the all-time list. With 285 carries, he needs 37 in the bowl game to break Derrick Knight's BC record for carries in a season (321), set in 2003. Harris notched his seventh 100-yard game of the season in BC's win over Maryland in Game 12, the 12th time he's reached the century mark in his two-year BC career.

QB David Shinskie -- He remains a guy to watch on this team because he has been so unpredictable. Even at 25, for the former professional pitcher is a true freshman and has been learning on the job after six years away from football. He had four interceptions and a lost fumble for a touchdown in the loss to North Carolina in Game 11.

LB Luke Kuechly -- The true freshman leads BC in tackles with 142, more than twice as many as any teammate. He has 35 tackles the last two games and would need 24 in the bowl game to break the program's single-season record for tackles, set by Tom McManus in 1991.

WR Rich Gunnell -- He had five catches in the regular-season finale at Maryland, giving him 54 for the season, tied for ninth on the all-time BC list (his 64 in 2007 are No. 4 on that list). His 175 career catches, with one game left, are second all-time to Pete Mitchell's 190 (1991-94).

USC

FS Taylor Mays -- He could have been a first-round pick last season but decided to come back for what turned out to disappointing season for the team and, to some extent, for him. He hasn't been a playmaker on the ball as a free safety, but he's still a big hitter and very few plays get behind him. He leads the team with 91 tackles, but has just one interception.

WR Damian Williams -- He has a team-high 58 receptions for 821 yards and six touchdowns, and Williams, a junior, also has a pair of punt returns for touchdowns. The big question with Williams is whether or not this will be his last game.

QB Matt Barkley -- Needs to sharpen his game and build momentum for next season. He has completed 184 of 315 passes for 2,385 yards, with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

DE Everson Griffen -- Many thought the junior would be an All-American stud by now. That hasn't quite happened, but he's a very good player who has eight sacks and who has a lot of speed for Boston College to handle.

MEDICAL WATCH

BOSTON COLLEGE
  • The Eagles are probably healthier heading into the bowl than they have been all year, with the extra time healing assorted bumps and bruises.
  • OG Thomas Claiborne, who suffered a leg injury in the North Carolina game, sat out the regular-season finale at Maryland but was available for an emergency situation. He should be fine.
USC
  • Backup TE Blake Ayles (knee) said he would to play in the bowl game.
  • Starting TE Anthony McCoy missed two full games and has been limited in several others because of an ankle sprain. He has 22 catches for 457 yards, an amazing average of 20.8 yards per catch.
  • WR David Ausberry (leg) is out.
  • C Kris O'Dowd, a preseason All-American, suffered a dislocated kneecap in fall camp and missed the opener. He played for a while after that, but was ineffective and taken out of the lineup for a few games. O'Dowd was back in the starting lineup against Arizona in the regular-season finale.
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TSX PICKS: USC 35-14

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