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The Cotton Bowl serves the focus yet again for one of the most interesting matchups of the New Year’s Six bowl games as No. 10 USC takes on No. 16 Tulane on Monday. The game features the Pac-12 runner-up against the champion of the American Athletic Conference with the Green Wave having claimed the New Year’s Six spot devoted to the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion.
First-year coach Lincoln Riley has already delivered on the promise to lead USC back into the upper tiers of the sport, guiding the Trojans to an 11-2 record and not only the first New Year’s Six bowl appearance since 2017, but the first bowl bid to any postseason game since 2019. Willie Fritz, on the other hand, has been at Tulane since 2016 but similarly received credit for a dramatic one-season turnaround. The Green Wave saw a nine-win increase from 2-10 in 2021 to 11-2 here in 2022, and in winning the AAC, claimed the program’s first conference championship since winning Conference USA back in 1998.
This will be the first meeting between USC and Tulane in 76 years; the two teams previously played in 1931, 1942 and 1946. The meeting during the 1931 season occurred in the Rose Bowl, which saw USC win and earn a claim the national championship. Overall, the Trojans hold a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series.
Date: Monday, Jan. 2 | Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
A chance for USC to put a better finish on 2022: The Trojans are looking to end the season on a better note following a crushing defeat to Utah in the Pac-12 title game. USC was ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff heading into the game, seemingly needing just one more win to make the playoff with a 12-1 record. After falling to the Utes for the second time this season, however, the 11-2 Trojans dropped out of the top four and picked up an at-large spot here in the Cotton Bowl. The bowl game provides an opportunity for USC to record its first bowl win since the end of the 2016 … and for Lincoln Riley to cap what was a tremendous first season with the Trojans with a win.
A victory lap for the Heisman Trophy winner: USC quarterback Caleb Williams put together an outstanding debut season with the Trojans, transferring from Oklahoma to follow Riley during the 2022 offseason. Williams had 47 total touchdowns (37 passing, 10 rushing) and just four interceptions, breaking single-season school records for total touchdowns and total offensive yards. That’s in addition being the most productive USC quarterback in terms of rushing yards on record. The result of that campaign was a Heisman Trophy for Williams, the eighth for a USC player and third for a Riley-coached quarterback in the last six seasons.
Williams will be back for USC in 2023 as he’s not eligible for the NFL Draft until 2024, so this game serves as both a victory lap for this Heisman win — and like the Trojans as a whole, a way to end the season on a better note — but also a chance to build hype for next season. With Jordan Addison among the USC players opting out of the bowl game to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft, Williams will be joined by underclassmen who might be helping the Trojans pursue a Pac-12 title once again next fall.
Tulane’s offense could turn this into a track meet: While USC’s offense comes with plenty of firepower and the Heisman Trophy winner, Tulane has the tools to trade paint with the one-two punch of quarterback Michael Pratt and running back Tyjae Spears. Pratt has 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions on the season, and his 8.6 yards per attempt ranks is tied for the best in the AAC and tied for 14th among all FBS quarterbacks. Spears has proven to be one of the most dynamic backs in the entire country over the second half of the season with 1,376 yards rushing and 15 rushing touchdowns on the year, which ranks in the top 15 nationally for both categories. However, through six games he was averaging just 52 rushing yards per game; since Oct. 15, Spears has run for at least 120 yards in every game and scored nine of his 15 touchdowns in the final seven games of the season.
USC coach Lincoln Riley and Trojans defensive coordinator Alex Grinch got a good look at Michael Pratt and the Tulane offense when they were at Oklahoma. The Green Wave gave the Sooners all they could handle before falling short 40-35 in a game that saw Pratt score four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), two of which came in the fourth quarter as Tulane came roaring back from a 23-point halftime deficit. I think Pratt and Tulane won’t come up short this time, and USC’s defense will have trouble getting stops. Prediction: Tulane +2
Which college football picks can you make with confidence during bowl season, and which underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,500 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.
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