USC FOOTBALL TO FACE ILLINOIS IN ROSE BOWL
Dec. 2, 2007
The No. 6-ranked USC football team (10-2) will face Illinois (9-3) in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, keeping alive the traditional Pac-10/Big Ten matchup.
It's the first time the teams will meet in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans and Illini have played 12 times in Los Angeles or Champaign, most recently in 1996 (a 55-3 USC road win).
USC, which won its unprecedented sixth consecutive Pac-10 title by beating crosstown foe UCLA on Saturday, 24-7, will be making its 32nd trip to the Rose Bowl (its third in a row) and its 46th bowl visit. The Trojans are 22-9 in the Rose Bowl and 29-16 in all bowls. Last year, the Trojans downed Michigan, 32-18, in Pasadena. This is USC's record sixth straight BCS bowl appearance. It will be the 78th game in a row that Troy, winners of 73 of its last 82 games, has been in the AP Top 25.
The Trojans are also aiming for their sixth consecutive AP Top 4 finish and 11-win season, all under seventh-year head coach Pete Carroll, the nation's winningest active coach (75-14, 84.3%).
USC's offense is guided by senior quarterback John David Booty, who ranks in the school's career Top 6 in passing and total offense. Senior tailback Chauncey Washington needs 104 yards to hit the 1,000-yard season rushing barrier and he has rushed for 9 touchdowns. Senior tight end Fred Davis, a Mackey Award semifinalist, has a team-best 55 receptions for 794 yards and 7 scores. His 110 career catches is a USC tight ends record. Senior 2-time All-American tackle Sam Baker anchors the offensive line.
The Trojan defense is in the national Top 7 in every statistical category: second in total defense (258.8), fourth in scoring defense (15.9) and rushing defense (79.2), sixth in pass efficiency defense (99.7) and seventh in pass defense (179.7). Among the top defenders are 2-time All-American defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who has 50 tackles for a loss and 29.5 sacks in his career, linebacker Keith Rivers and cornerback Terrell Thomas. All are seniors.
This will be just the fifth Rose Bowl for Illinois. Its most recent Rose Bowl trip was in the 1984 game, when it lost to UCLA, 45-9. It also played in the 1947, 1952 and 1964 games and has posted a 3-1 record.
Illinois, which won just 2 games in 2006, finished second in the Big Ten this year at 6-2 and posted wins over a pair of then-Top 5 teams in No. 5 Wisconsin and No.1 Ohio State (the Buckeyes are playing in the BCS Championship Game). Head coach Ron Zook, the 2007 Big Ten Coach of the Year after posting college football's biggest turnaround this season, has the Illini in a bowl for the first time since 2001.
Illinois features a run-oriented offense that ranks fifth nationally in rushing offense (266.2) and became the first Illini team to top the 3,000-yard rushing mark in a season. Leading the way is junior running back Rashard Mendenhall, who is eighth nationally in rushing (127.2). His 1,526 rushing yards in 2007 set a school record. He scored 18 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught 29 passes for 259 yards with 2 scores. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, he also is 18th nationally in scoring (9.0) and 25th in all-purpose running (148.8).
He runs behind a front headlined by All-American first team senior left guard Martin O'Donnell.
Sophomore quarterback Juice Williams has thrown for 1,498 yards with 13 TDs and run for 774 yards with another 7 scores. His favorite target is freshman wide receiver Arrelious Benn, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year who caught 49 passes for 596 yards and 1 score and rushed for another 158 yards (he also had a scoring kickoff return).
The Illini defense--19th nationally in scoring defense (19.5) and 23rd in rushing defense (114.5)--is led by senior All-American first team linebacker J Leman, who posted 124 tackles, including 9.5 for losses. He had double digits in tackles 9 times in 2007. Soph cornerback Vontae Davis, who had 63 tackles, 4 interceptions and 8 deflections, also made the All-Big Ten first team.