SQ Holiday Bowl Preview

With a highly anticipated slate of New Year's Six bowl games nearing closer, there are many other games still worth watching. One of those games is the Holiday Bowl featuring two teams with first-year head coaches: the Wisconsin Badgers and the USC Trojans. This matchup can be seen December 30th at 10:30 p.m. EST on ESPN.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

One Last Game for Senior Quarterbacks: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave has had quite an interesting career, from getting benched, struggling mentally, and losing confidence to having a chance to put his name in the Wisconsin record books. With a win over USC, Stave would become the all-time wins leader in Badger quarterback history. 

On the other hand, Trojan QB Cody Kessler has had many head coaches over his career at USC, including Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkisian, and Clay Helton. The Trojans have been ranked as high as No. 6 since Kessler became a starter but have never finished a season with less than four losses. The quarterback battle between these seniors will definitely be something to watch.

New Head Coaches: In his first year as head coach of Wisconsin, Paul Chryst was able to lead the Badgers to a 9-3 record, only losing games to teams who are currently ranked above them (Alabama, Iowa, and Northwestern). Essentially, Chryst's squad beat whom they should've beat, but were unable to pull off any upsets, which is understandable with star running back Corey Clement missing most of this season due to injury. 

USC coach Clay Helton took over for Steve Sarkisian on an interim basis on October 11th, and the Trojans went on to finish 5-2 in their next seven games, which was good enough for Sarkisian to get the permanent job on November 30th. There is no question that a win in the Holiday Bowl would give both of these coaches a load of confidence heading into their second season.

Conference Supremacy: The PAC-12 conference is 4-1 in bowl games this year, while the Big Ten is 1-1. With the PAC-12 getting left out of the playoff and the Big Ten coming off a great regular season, an impressive bowl season could be in the cards for either conference. As for the USC Trojans, they have a chance to get revenge on the Big Ten after Nebraska beat UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Key Stats

13.1- The average points allowed by the Wisconsin defense this season and the lowest in the nation. This is important because the USC offense averages 34.9 points per game, so something has to give when they meet up in Qualcomm Stadium.


147.2- The average amount of rushing yards conceded by the USC defense this season. In each of Wisconsin's three losses, the Badgers have been held to under 100 yards rushing, so if the Trojans want to have success on defense, it starts with stopping the run.

2- The number of consecutive years that USC has played in the Holiday Bowl. Last season, the Trojans beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, so they will be accustomed to all of the bowl week festivities and be able to focus on the game. It has also been two years since someone not named Barry Alvarez coached the Badgers in a bowl game.  

Key Players

Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin- As mentioned earlier, Stave has gone through some ups-and-downs in his career at Wisconsin, but he has an opportunity to leave the Badger fans with a smile. It is no secret that the Badgers want to run the football, but there will be a handful of plays in this game where Stave will have an opportunity to impact the game with his arm. And what he does with those throws could decide the game. Stave has 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions on the year, so the result will depend on which Joel Stave shows up.

Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC- With a lot of time to prepare for this game, expect the do-it-all athlete to be included in every facet of the game, perhaps even some trick plays on offense. Jackson is second on the team in receiving yards with 382, but most importantly he has the ability to completely change the game in one play.


Why Wisconsin Wins

Wisconsin can win this game if they are able to control the clock and run their offense without being in a hurry. Known for their running game, the Badgers could find success against an average Trojan defense, and Joel Stave has shown the ability to make big-time throws when needed. Also, in order to win the game, the Wisconsin defense will have to limit big plays against an explosive USC offense, which is possible because of the way that the Badger defense has performed this season.

Why USC Wins

USC can win this game if they're able to spread out the Wisconsin defense and let their athletes (like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree' Jackson) make plays. With 1,389 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, Smith-Schuster and his quarterback Cody Kessler are never out of a game. If the Trojan defense can cause a few Badger turnovers by forcing Stave into bad throws, USC can win this game by a couple scores.

Prediction

This game will be interesting to watch because two contrasting offensive styles are matching up against each other. If Wisconsin running back Corey Clement was completely healthy, the outcome might be different, but he isn't completely healthy, so it may be a long night for the Badgers. It will be close for a half, but I don't think Wisconsin has enough firepower to stick with the Trojans for four quarters. On the other side of the ball, I think the USC defense is good enough to give Stave some trouble in the pocket and hold the Badger rushing attack to around 130 yards.

Final Score: USC 35 - Wisconsin 21


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