Many people thought Penn State would have a difficult time matching the speed and athleticism of Southern California and they were right. The Trojans came out of the gate much more hyped, dancing with coaches on the sidelines after every score on their way to a 31-7 halftime lead. The game was essentially over. But the Nittany Lions didn't quit, making the final score look respectable at 38-24.
One team that has to be happy about Penn State's refusal to stop fighting is TCU. Media members such as Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit can label the Trojans the best defense of all time, but they didn't even finish with the highest ranking this season. USC gave up 410 yards on New Years' Day and the Horned Frogs, ranked a close second nationally in total defense going into yesterday, can claim that their little team from Fort Worth, Texas finished with the best defense in 2008.
TCU ended the season by holding a potent Boise State offense to 275 total yards in the Frogs' 17-16 Poinsettia Bowl victory. By holding the Broncos almost 200 yards below their average, TCU gave itself a fighting chance to pass the Trojans in total defense. TCU finished the season giving up a mere 217 ypg, 11 yards behind USC.
USC supporters can point to the fact that Penn State gathered most of their yards and points in garbage time and there may be some weight to that argument. But while the Trojans can claim that they had the best defense by reputation, the stats don't bear it out in terms of total yardage given up. The previously mentioned 410 yards gained by Penn State added 15 yards to USC's average on the season, ending it at 221 ypg.
That statistic may not be important to the Trojans, as they became the only team in history to win three straight Rose Bowls. But for TCU, a non-BCS school which continues to fight an uphill battle for national respect, finishing with the highest ranked defense in the country is huge. First of all, it makes recruiting easier for Gary Patterson and his coaching staff. It also serves notice to the rest of the teams in FBS. Most of all, having the no. 1 defense provides validation for a group of players who never took it easy on opponents.
The Horned Frogs held 12 of its 13 opponents under 17 points and limited Oklahoma to 35 points in Norman on Sept. 27, the Sooners' lowest output of the season. The Frogs lost that game 35-10, but the defensive performance was not the reason for the loss. TCU gave up up 436 total yards of offense against the Sooners, the only game in which the Frogs allowed an opponent to even gain 300 yards or more.
The USC Trojans have three straight Rose Bowl wins and several 2009 first round draft picks under their belt, but for this season, the TCU Horned Frogs were the top dog in defense.
At least statistically.