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Emerald Bowl Preview

   by Ben Burns - 12/22/2009

What is USC’s mindset coming into the Emerald Bowl?

That’s the No. 1 question facing handicappers betting Saturday’s tilt between the embattled Trojans (8-4, 3-9 ATS) and an overachieving Boston College squad.

For starters, there’s no way the Trojans, who have played in seven consecutive BCS bowls, could be 100 percent motivated for the Emerald Bowl. Then, an off-the-field controversy that may rule out star tailback Joe McKnight pops up, in addition to three other key players being ruled ineligible. It all spells distraction.

But it’s still S.C. Surely Pete Carroll has stockpiled enough talent to overwhelm a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad, right?

On the other side of the ball, Boston College defied downtrodden preseason expectations to go 8-4 (6-5 ATS). During a depressing offseason, the Eagles coach was fired, their best defender was diagnosed with cancer and their starting quarterback was kicked off the team.

But longtime defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani took over as head coach and pieced together a solid campaign that has B.C. bowling for a ninth straight season.

Without question, the Eagles are the more excited team to be in San Francisco.
Injuries, suspensions.

USC: McKnight, the Trojans’ leading rusher and most dynamic playmaker, is a huge factor. Signs point to him not playing Saturday, but nothing was official as of Tuesday.

He didn’t travel with the team when it left for San Francisco on Monday. Pete Carroll released a statement on the Trojans’ Web site that said, "[McKnight] has some paperwork he needs to do and it's best for him to stay in L.A. so he can be available to finish it. We don’t know right now how long this will take.”

With Southern Cal already under investigation by the NCAA, it’s hard to believe they’d take any chances with playing McKnight.
Plus, the Trojans are deep at running back, with C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford capable backs. Bradford, however, missed practice time this week after tweaking his knee. But he is expected to play.

Starting tight end Anthony McCoy and starting offensive tackle Tyron Smith, a pair of honorable mention Pac-10 players, were among three players ruled ineligible Monday.

The Trojans also will be without starting senior cornerback Josh Pinkard. Sophomore T.J. Bryant could get his first career start in place of Pinkard. Shareece Wright, who hasn’t played this season due to eligibility issues, also is expected to see action.
Boston College: The Eagles have no significant injuries.

Line Movement
The Trojans opened up as nine-point favorites. The line didn’t move much until the McKnight controversy revved up over the weekend and was followed by the players, including two starters, being ruled ineligible.
As of Tuesday, the line was down to -7.5 at most online books and even -7 at the Las Vegas Hilton.
The total opened up at 43.5 and has gone up slightly to 44, with a few 44.5’s out there.

USC went 5-7 under with an average total of 49.75. The Trojans averaged 26.7 points per game and allowed 20.5 points.
The total of 44 is the lowest total on a USC game this season.

Boston College went 5-6 under with an average total just over 43. The Eagles scored 25.8 points and allowed 19.4.

Quarterbacks
USC’s Matt Barkley: The heralded true freshman went through more growing pains than some expected, throwing 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He did show some moxie in leading a game-winning drive at Ohio State, but overall it’s been an up-and-down year for Barkley.

However, coaches often say freshmen benefit the most from the additional bowl practices. “"If I play well . . . then we'll get that solid victory. We'll be able to get that confidence back, which should help our team as a whole,” Barkley told the Los Angeles Times.
Boston College’s Dave Shinskie: This time last season, the 25-year-old Shinskie was playing minor league baseball. He hadn’t played football since 2003. Like Barkley, he’s a pocket passer but had an inconsistent season, throwing 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Statistically speaking
USC: Strengths: Pass efficiency defense 16th; Scoring defense 16th; Scoring defense 22; Punt returns 7th; Sacks 17. Weaknesses: Passing offense 68th; kickoff returns 110th.

Boston College: Strengths: Rushing defense 16th; Scoring defense 18th; Sacks allowed 39th; Punt returns 28th. Weaknesses: Total offense: 98th; Passing offense 95th; Sacks 99th.

Despite USC’s struggles, it’s interesting that they are still ranked high in most power polls, including 13 in the Sagarin rankings. The Trojans have played the 6th toughest schedule in the nation.

Boston College is 40th in Sagarin rankings with a strength of schedule of 45.

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