This year’s first bowl game between a pair of ranked teams will be the San Diego Country Credit Union Holiday Bowl. The game features the no. 22 USC Trojans of the Pac-12 and the no. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten. Kickoff is set for 8:00 EST on Friday, December 27 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego. The game will be broadcast on FS1.
Current betting odds have Iowa favored by 1.5 points with an over/under of 52.5 points. Click here to get all of this year’s college bowl game odds.
After missing out on a bowl game last year, the Trojans are back in the postseason in 2019. USC had a rather uneven start to the season, sitting at 3-3 at the midway point. However, they won five of their last six games to finish 7-2 in Pac-12 play and 8-4 overall. Despite a slightly disgruntled fanbase, the Trojans were just one Utah loss away from playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. More importantly, the Trojans did enough for head coach Clay Helton to keep his job in 2020. Helton now has a chance to lead USC into a bowl game for the fifth time.
As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes continue to be one of the most stable and consistent programs in the country. Iowa made a strong push in the Big Ten West Division this year but fell a little short. Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes are 9-3 and aiming for their first 10 win season since 2015. Also of note, Kirk Ferentz has now taken Iowa to a bowl in seven straight seasons. The Hawkeyes have missed a bowl game just twice since 2001, going 8-8 in bowl games under Ferentz during that span. Iowa is hoping to win their third straight bowl game after knocking off Boston College and Mississippi State the past two postseasons.
This will be the first meeting between USC and Iowa since the two teams met in the Orange Bowl following the 2002 season. That was Iowa’s breakout season under Ferentz that put the Hawkeyes on the map as a football program. However, Pete Carroll’s Trojans won the game 38-17 with a guy named Carson Palmer at quarterback.
I’ll admit that Iowa is the more consistent and reliable of the two teams. The Hawkeyes are also a little older and probably have better coaching than USC. However, the Trojans have more pure talent, which is the great equalizer. After a strong finish to the season, I think USC’s young players will benefit from the extra practice time and have one of their best performances of the season, beating Iowa in a de facto home game.
Despite losing starting quarterback J.T. Daniel to injury early in the season, USC finished fifth in the country in passing yards per game. Freshman Kedon Slovis was pressed into duty, but he took the starting job and ran with it. He completed nearly 72% of his passes while averaging nine yards per pass attempt. Amidst all of the injuries to the USC backfield, Slovis carried the Trojans on his back for large chunks of the season. The one thing that always seems to be true of USC is that they have great receivers. That was the case once again with Michael Pittman Jr. hauling in 95 passes for over 1,200 yards.
While I respect the Iowa defense, which conceded less than 14 points per game this season, they’ll have their hands full in this game. The Hawkeyes are stout against the run and have a strong pass rush. But they didn’t see a passing attack this season that comes close to the one they’ll face against USC. Most of their opponents in the Big Ten aimed to establish the run against and were then forced to throw the ball. However, the Trojans are going to come out throwing the ball from the start, giving the Iowa defense a different look from what they’re used to seeing.
Keep in mind that the Trojans averaged 36 points per game over their final seven games. That includes a 41-point performance against Cal, one of the best defensive teams in the Pac-12. On the season, Washington was the only team to hold the Trojans under 24 points. Even a strong Iowa defense could have a hard time holding USC below that point total.
In other words, there will be a fair amount of pressure on the Iowa offense to put points on the board. The Hawkeyes, of course, averaged just 24 points per game on the season. That number dropped to 19 points in their seven games against bowl teams. Iowa has a rushing attack that’s average at best and a quarterback in Nathan Stanley who’s more of a game manager. The Hawkeyes aren’t likely to push the ball down the field and get into a track meet with the Trojans, which could be a problem if the Iowa defense doesn’t play lights out.
Ultimately, the more points scored in this game, the more it will favor USC. Given the athletes the Trojans have on offense, it’s hard to imagine them being held under 20 points. If USC can crack that number, I like their chances, so I’ll lean toward the Trojans to cap the season with a bowl win.