EL PASO, Texas — A season that began with so much promise for Southern California will end Monday in a place few would have expected to see the Trojans this bowl season.
Instead of the BCS, the Trojans (7-5) will face Georgia Tech (6-7) in Sun Bowl. Both teams are unranked and riding two-game losing streaks, and Southern Cal will be without injured quarterback Matt Barkley (shoulder).
Barkley, the first three-time captain in team history, injured his right shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. It was announced Thursday that Barkley was not cleared to play in the Sun Bowl. He put together one of the greatest careers in Southern Cal history and is expected to be one of the first quarterback drafted by the NFL in April.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said he doesn’t expect Southern Cal to change much offensively with Wittek.
“Surely he’s an excellent player,” Johnson said of Barkley, “but I think the young man that played in his place is also very talented. We only had the one game to break it down, but you can see he’s got good feet, a very strong arm and he’s very capable. I doubt they’re going to change what they do.”
And neither will Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, with their triple-option offense, are fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 323 yards per game. Quarterback Tevin Washington has run for 19 touchdowns.
“It’s very difficult (to prepare for),” Kiffin said of Tech’s offense. “Luckily, we had a month to prepare for it. I don’t know how people do it in a week. It took us a week to get the (scout) team to play them. It’s different. In a weird way, it’s like playing Oregon. There are not a lot of plays being run, but they’re so good at it.”
The Yellow Jackets have to prepare for a Southern Cal offense that features two of the best receivers in the nation in Lee and junior Robert Woods, who is expected to make a decision after the game regarding whether or not he plans to enter the NFL draft. Woods is Southern Cal’s all-time receptions leader, while Lee won the Biletnikoff Award and finished fourth in this year’s Heisman voting.
“The two wide receivers are so talented,” Johnson said. “They’ve got a good offensive line, an adequate running game. They’re just very talented all up and down at every position.”
Southern California (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), noon EST (CBS)
Line: Southern Cal by 7½
Series Record: Southern Cal leads 2-1
What’s at stake: For a team coming off a two-year bowl ban and which entered the season ranked No. 1, the Sun Bowl is a consolation prize for Southern Cal. And it will have to play without QB Matt Barkley, who is out with a shoulder injury. But as much as the Trojans want to get a win, Georgia Tech may actually be the more desperate team. The Yellow Jackets are bowl eligible for the 16th consecutive season (the fourth-longest such streak in the country), but they’ve lost their last seven bowl games, including a 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in last year’s Sun Bowl.
Key matchup: Southern Cal QB Max Wittek vs. Georgia Tech’s defense. Wittek has a lot of weapons at his disposal and has had extra time to prepare for Georgia Tech’s No. 53-ranked defense, but he’ll be making just his second college start.
Players to watch: Southern Cal WR Marqise Lee, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year and Biletnikoff Award winner who finished fourth in the Heisman voting, leads the nation in catches (95), is second in yards (1,764) and second in yards per game (147) and has 14 TD catches. WR Robert Woods, who is Southern Cal’s all-time receptions leader, has 73 catches for 813 yards and 11 TDs.
Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington, the ACC’s all-time leader in QB rushing TDs (37), has passed for 1,764 yards and seven TDs and rushed for 638 and 19 TDs. He leads a Tech offense that is No. 4 in the nation in rushing at 323 yards per game.