Penn State Football

Penn State will play in Rose Bowl, misses College Football Playoff

Penn State football team celebrates Big Ten Championship

Penn State football coach James Franklin celebrated the Big Ten Championship with his family while teammates celebrated with each other. The win gives the Nittany Lions a shot at making the College Football Playoffs.
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Penn State football coach James Franklin celebrated the Big Ten Championship with his family while teammates celebrated with each other. The win gives the Nittany Lions a shot at making the College Football Playoffs.

“The Granddaddy of Them All” is a nice consolation prize.

After capturing the Big Ten Championship and missing out on the College Football Playoff in a 24-hour period, Penn State is heading to the Rose Bowl, as announced on Sunday afternoon.

No. 5 Penn State (11-2, 9-1) will face No. 9 Southern California (9-3, 7-2) at 5 p.m. on Jan. 2.

The Nittany Lions earned a spot in the storied game by winning the Big Ten, while the Trojans got in with the Pac-12 tie-in. The Rose Bowl would’ve been required to take the Pac-12 champion Washington if the Huskies didn’t reach the College Football Playoff.

Instead, it’s Penn State against USC, two of the hottest teams in football. The Nittany Lions and Trojans have combined for 17 consecutive wins, and both teams have lit up the scoreboards in that span (Penn State averaging 40.1 points per game, USC at 37.1 ppg).

It should be a fun matchup — and both coaches see it that way, too.

“I think if you watch any coverage of college football, people are talking about USC and that they’re one of the scarier teams in the country,” Penn State coach James Franklin said on a conference call Sunday evening. “I know there’s a lot of people that were hoping that they wouldn’t make the playoffs.”

USC coach Clay Helton echoed similar sentiments.

“I think you’re dealing with two of the hotter teams in the country right now if you look at Penn State on a nine-game win streak, us on an eight-game win streak,” Helton said. “I think it makes for fabulous TV, that’s for sure. It makes for a great bowl experience, and that’s what this time is all about.”

Similar to Penn State turning its season around after a 2-2 start, USC flipped a switch early on. Helton benched quarterback Max Browne in favor of redshirt freshman Sam Darnold after a 1-2 start, and from that point forward the Trojans went 8-1.

During Penn State’s nine-game unbeaten run, the average margin of victory has been 20.8. In USC’s eight-game winning streak, its average margin of victory was 19.75.

“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Franklin said of the Trojans. “It’s going to be a real challenge and yes, two of the more storied programs in college football. Again, that history is not going to get a point for either one of us, it’s going to be about going out on the field and executing.”

The Nittany Lions and Trojans haven’t reached the Rose Bowl since both programs squared off in 2009. USC defeated Penn State 38-24 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score may have indicated.

Can the Nittany Lions return the belated favor? We’ll all find out in less than a month.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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