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Sun Bowl preview: USC vs. Georgia Tech

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Sun Bowl
USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7)
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

About the Trojans: USC has spent some of the time before the bowl cussing El Paso and showing up late to bowl functions, but it has only itself to blame for being here. The preseason No. 1 team lost five times this year, behind a strangely mediocre defense, a mistake-filled year by quarterback Matt Barkley and some questionable coaching. Barkley isn't a factor in this game, as he is injured and will be replaced by redshirt freshman Max Wittek, who showed some good things in his first career start against Notre Dame. The bigger loss could be receiver Marqise Lee, who appeared to hurt his knee in a bowl practice, and his status is uncertain.

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Georgia Tech DB Jemea Thomas (USA Today Sports Images)

About the Yellow Jackets: Georgia Tech had to apply for a waiver with the NCAA to be bowl eligible, because its loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game dropped its record to 6-7. It has been a strange season for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets fired defensive coordinator Al Groh during the season, and shortly after went on a three-game winning streak that included a 68-50 win against North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets were competitive in its championship game loss to Florida State, which could give them hope that they will be competitive against a USC team that appears to have no interest in playing in this bowl.

Key number: 7
Georgia Tech has lost seven straight bowl games. Last year was a 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in this same Sun Bowl. Paul Johnson, who ran a triple-option offense at Navy and brought that to Georgia Tech, has a 2-6 career record in bowl games.

The breakdown: USC is the better team on paper, there's little question about that. The Trojans were No. 1 coming into the season for a reason. But this isn't a well coached group, and of the 70 bowl teams, USC seems to be the least motivated. Some of the Trojans' actions scream that they're ready to mail this one in and get to the offseason, and it's hard to win a game that way, especially when it requires a few hours of stopping an option offense. Still, Georgia Tech is a 6-7 team that has had major defensive problems through the year, and Wittek will want to make a good impression going into next year.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: USC 31, Georgia Tech 27

We'll probably see in the first few series if USC's heart is in it. It's easy to see a scenario in which Georgia Tech's option just beats up an undisciplined and unmotivated Trojans defense. But there's just too much talent on USC's side to predict a loss to a 6-7 team.

Graham Watson: USC 35, Georgia Tech 31
I really wanted to take Georgia Tech, especially with all the shenanigans that have gone on with USC players being late for a dinner and tweeting out their dislike of El Paso, but the Trojans' talent is too much to ignore. Even without quarterback Matt Barkley, the Trojans are a strong offensive side and while the option offense is tough to defend, I think USC would win in a shootout.

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