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USC, Penn State pretty much mirror images

The more you look at Penn State and USC, the more you see one team and think you might be looking at the other. They are a lot alike.

Just got the Penn State Rose Bowl media notes and the more you look at this game, the more you realize how much the Nittany Lions and USC's Trojans look like one another. Much more so, we might say, than in your typical Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup.

And we're not just talking about the struggling September starts (2-2 for Penn State, 1-3 for USC). Or the fact that both teams are led by star quarterbacks who hadn't started a college game before this past September.

Or that they share a combined 17-game win streak. It's more than that. Much more. Here are many of those similarities and connections.

*** Regarding that win streak, Penn State's nine-game winning streak is the third longest in the nation (behind Alabama's 25 and Western Michigan's 15) with USC's eight the next in line.

*** But then there's this pretty remarkable stat. Despite both programs having been hit with controversial and much-debated and never-accepted NCAA scholarship-limiting penalties, USC and Penn State are two of just eight FBS teams to have recorded winning records in each of the last 12 seasons joining Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Boise State, Oklahoma, Florida State and LSU.

*** Penn State Coach James Franklin has been a coach for 21 years, Clay Helton for 22. Both are 44, born in 1972. Both were four-year college quarterbacks -- Helton for two at Auburn, two more at Houston for his dad, Kim Helton. Franklin was a four-year star at East Stroudsburg (Pa).

*** This Rose Bowl marks the second straight Rose Bowl game between these two when they're both in the Top 10 USC was No. 5 in 2009, PSU No. 6 then, this year PSU is No. 5, USC No. 9.

*** With USC as this year's Rose Bowl opponent, the Trojans become the No. 1 all-time bowl opponent of Penn State in its 47 bowl appearances tying USC with Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Tennessee atop the Nittany Lions' 26 all-time bowl opponents.

*** While USC won both its trophy games this season, winning the Victory Bell against UCLA and the Shillelagh against Notre Dame for the first time since 2011, Penn State won both of its trophy games as well this season -- taking the Governor’s Victory Bell from Minnesota and winning the Land Grant Trophy from Michigan State. For Penn State, that's the first time since 2009.

*** Both Penn State and USC beat two of the top three teams they played this season -- USC over Washington (26-13) and Colorado (21-17) while losing big to Alabama (52-6). Penn State beat Ohio State (24-21) and Wisconsin (38-31), losing big to Michigan (49-10).

*** Since both these teams joined one another for their schools' first-ever bowl game in 1923 in the first game at the Arroyo Seco Rose Bowl site, they've made lots of history. Penn State's 47 bowl games tie it at No. 9 with Ohio State. USC's 51st bowl is good for No. 6. With 28 bowl wins, Penn State is No. 4. USC's 33 bowl wins are good for No. 2. With a 63.0 percent on a 28-16-2 record, Penn State is No. 3 nationally (among teams with 20 bowl appearances). USC's 66.0 percent winning record (33-17-0) is No. 1.

*** But enough of history, how about the current connections/similarities between these teams starting with the roster. USC has one Pennsylvanian -- freshman tight end Cary Angeline from Chester Springs and Downington HS. Penn State also has one -- linebacker Koa Farmer from Lake View Terrace and Notre Dame H.S.

*** But there are more. As we pointed out in last week's War Room, USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson and PSU defensive back Christian Campbell are cousins from Phenix City, Ala. Penn State alum LaVar Arrington is the legal guardian of USC's Oluwole Betiku. PSU defensive coordinator Brent Pry was D-line coach at Memphis from 2007-2009 when Helton was offensive coordinator there. Also on the Memphis staff with Helton in 2001-2002 was PSU's co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks. USC's special teams coordinator John Baxter coached at Maryland in 1992 with PSU assistant AD Dwight Galt.   

*** Now for the players. Lots of lookalikes there. Penn State's second-year running back Saquon Barkley has carried it 247 times for 1,302 yards (100.2 a game) and 16 TD. USC sophomore Ronald Jones II has hauled it 157 times for 1,066 yards (85.6) and 11 TD after a slow start that has them even the last two-thirds of the season.  

*** Then there are the two quarterbacks, first-time starters, second year in college, with Trace McSorley going 206 of 358 for 3,360 yards (258.5 average) with 25 TD and only five interceptions. USC's Sam Darnold went 213 for 313 for 2,633 yards (219.4) for 26 TD with eight interceptions.

*** Penn State's leading receiver Chris Godwin caught 50 passes for 795 yards (61.2) average) and nine TD. USC's leader, JuJu Smith-Schuster, caught 63 for 781 yards (65.1) and also nine TD.

*** Team stats are just as close: Penn State has a 36.7 to 32.9 scoring edge. USC has a rushing advantage of 207.2 yards to 168.8 while the passing yardage -- Penn State at 261.2 and USC at 261.7 -- is near dead-even. Total offense? Close again. Penn State 430.1 yards a game, USC 468.9. How about turnover margin? Penn State is plus 3, USC plus 4. Points per game allowed? Again, can't get any closer. Penn State allows 23.4, USC 22.2  USC has 11 interceptions, PSU nine. USC gives up 133.7 yards a game rushing, Penn State 153.5. But it's back to PSU when it comes to defending the pass, allowing 198.5 yards a game to USC's 225.3. Total offense allowed? Again, almost even. Penn State allows 352.0 yards a game, USC 359.0.

*** But there's one place these teams could not be more unlike one another. USC is a first-half killer, scoring 19.6 points a game the first 30 minutes while holding opponents to 8.3 points, 11th best in the nation. And Penn State? Reverse that. The Nittany Lions average 22.9 points each second half, second-best in the nation, while limiting opponents to 8.1.

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