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Hyundai Sun Bowl Preview: USC vs. Georgia Tech

The 7-5 USC Trojans will take on the 6-7 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the 2012 Hyundai Sun Bowl. The game marks USC’s return to postseason play after two years of NCAA ineligibility due to sanction violations, though the Sun Bowl is a hollow consolation prize for the top-ranked pre-season team in all of college football. They’re putting on a happy face for the game, but it’s clear that they aren’t terribly invested in the game; they showed up very late to a pregame banquet and infuriated the Yellow Jackets in the process.

“Especially after two years of sitting at home and not being able to go to a bowl game, we’re excited,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “We’re excited about a very good bowl and a great matchup.”

Senior quarterback Matt Barkley returned to school with the hopes of winning a national championship, but the team fell far short of preseason expectations. Barkley threw 15 interceptions this season, though he did average 3.3 touchdowns per game. His two wide receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, were also sensational this season. Lee was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, catching 112 balls for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. Woods caught 73 balls for 813 yards and 11 touchdowns. While their offensive output was prodigious, the Trojans are still left relatively empty-handed at the end of a season that should have been so much more. Barkley won’t even start in the game because of a late-season injury; red shirt freshman Max Wittek will get the nod instead. Wittek looked shaky at times against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Trojans’ last game of the season, completing 14-23 passes for a touchdown and two picks. Barkley, a consensus top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, will have to sit on the sideline for the last game of his collegiate career.

“It didn’t turn out the way I planned,” Barkley said of his return to USC for his senior season. “But I think over these last four years, and especially this year, I’ve learned so much. (I’ve) grown, matured a lot since last year I really think, and that will prepare me for the next level and for later in life. I don’t regret it one bit.”

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, could not be more different from USC. They run their vaunted triple option rushing attack, and typically grind out wins on the ground. It could be a challenge for them to keep up with USC’s up-tempo, high scoring attack. Georgia Tech lost 21-15 to Florida State in the ACC Championship game, and although they finished with a sub-.500 record, they are still eligible for a bowl berth because their final loss occurred in a championship game. Perhaps no team in the country has had a tougher stretch to end their season than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets; they have played Georgia, Florida State and now USC to close out 2012.

“When we found out that we were coming back to the Sun Bowl and we were going to be playing the Trojans of Southern Cal, I don’t know what I did to become so lucky to get the University of Georgia, Florida State and Southern Cal all in a row,” Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson said.

Depending on where you look, the Trojans are between a 7.5 and 9.5-point favorite in this game. Despite all of USC’s struggles,, they should be able to cover the spread no matter which one of those numbers you wager on. The Yellow Jackets are 79th in the country in scoring defense, and USC’s explosive offense should be able to make quick work of them. That, in addition to Georgia Tech’s one-dimensional offense, should swing the game heavily in favor of the Trojans. 

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