2007 Rose Bowl - Michigan vs. USC

Posted Dec 14, 2006

2007 Rose Bowl presented by Citi - Michigan vs. USC

USC (10-2) vs. Michigan (11-1)

January 1st, 5:00 p.m. ET, ABC

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Rose Bowl Player Profile: Michigan DT Alan Branch, team bowl history and more

Have two teams ever been more disappointed to be in the Rose Bowl?

Even with the new BCS Championship game in place, the Rose Bowl is still the most revered, most prestigious bowl out there, at least in name, and it even has the first traditional Big Ten vs. Pac 10 matchup since 2004 when USC, who was grouchy then after being left out of the national championship, beat Michigan 28-14. Of course, it's not quite like the old days since the Big Ten champion isn't playing, but it's still a clash of titans for the right to likely finish second in the final rankings. Of even more interest, this might be a preview of the 2008 national championship.

National Rankings
USC Michigan
Total Offense
26th  397.92 ypg 33rd  374.92 ypg
Total Defense
23rd  293.75 ypg 6th  254.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
20th  30.33 ppg 22nd  30.17 ppg
Scoring Defense
12th  14.92 ppg 8th  14.58 ppg
Run Offense
59th  134.67 ypg 11th  189.17 ypg
Run Defense
17th  97.67 ypg 1st  43 ypg
Pass Offense
17th  253.25 ypg 75h  185.75 ypg
Pass Defense
56th  196.08 ypg 75th  211.08 ypg
Turnover Margin
43rd  0.25 2nd  1.25
at Arkan. W 50-14
Nebraska W 28-10
at Arizona W 20-3
at Wash St W 28-22
W 26-20
Arizona St W 28-21
at Oreg St L 33-31
at Stanford W 42-0
Oregon W 35-10
W 23-9
N. Dame W 44-24
  L 13-9
Vanderbilt W 27-7
Central Mich W 41-17
at N Dame W 47-21
Wisconsin W 27-13
at Minn. W 28-14
Michigan St W 31-13
at Penn St W 17-10
W 20-6
Nwestern W 17-3
Ball State W 34-26
at Indiana W 34-3
at Ohio State L 42-39
Position Ratings
relative to each other
USC 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4
5 RBs 5
5 Receivers 5
4 O Line 5
4 D Line 5
5 Linebackers 4.5
4 Secondary 3.5
4 Spec Teams 4
5 Coaching 5

Michigan didn't exactly come out of nowhere to go on its fantastic run, but this was a make-or-break season for head coach Lloyd Carr after struggling against Ohio State and losing four of his last five bowl games. The perception was that Michigan football had slipped from the ranks of the elite and might be due for some big changes. Those changes came in the form of new coordinators and a different training regimen and philosophy that led to a leaner, meaner version of the normally beefy, button-down Wolverines.

The Michigan season kicked off in full flight with a dominant 47-21 win at Notre Dame, which wasn't as close as the final score might indicate, followed up by a solid 27-13 win over Wisconsin for the Badgers' only blemish of the year. Helped by a stifling defense and a steady offense, the Woverines rumbled through the regular season only getting pushed a bit by Penn State, and of all teams, Ball State, before the classic 42-39 loss to Ohio State that still left fans wanting more.

Of course, the season was defined by a major snubbing by the voters who didn't want to see a Buckeye-Wolverine rematch and forced the issue by putting Florida in the national title game. If Michigan is the real deal, it overcomes the disappointment and proves to everyone that it is absolutely, positively, the second best team in the nation against a USC that's a year away from being back to USC again.

Without Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and Matt Leinart, the Trojans didn't have quite the same pop they have over the previous few years. Even so, with one of the fastest defenses head coach Pete Carroll had ever fielded, and a strong passing game helped by the best receiving corps in America, the Trojans got into a position to play in its third straight national title game.

And then came the Bruins.

A fired up UCLA team sacked and pressured its way into a 13-9 win over USC to throw the national title picture into chaos. Before that, the Trojans were cruising along with dominant wins over Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame to all but erase memories of a 33-31 loss at Oregon State. Partly because of the talent and partly because it was being given the benefit of the doubt for several good post-season performances, USC was being shoved into the national title path before it was fully seasoned.

The running game still needs work, QB John David Booty could use a bit more time, and the team has to learn how to win every close game. Even so, this is one of the most talented teams in America, and one of the most resilient, overcoming the loss of star-power and dealing with several injuries to have a great season. A win over Michigan would set the wheels in motion for what could be a phenomenal 2007.

Let's be honest here. The average college football fan has as much interest in watching the Lifetime New Year's Day movie marathon has he does this year's Orange or Fiesta bowls; the Rose is the one everyone's waiting for before the Buckeyes and Gators get their say. The BCS Championship will get a week of hype all to itself. This will be more than just the appetizer.

Players to watch: Michigan CB Leon Hart, take two. Considered to be a potential top five draft pick with his playmaking skills, speed and athleticism, he had an off game in the loss to Ohio State slipping all over the place and struggling in wrapping up. While he's not going to tumble off the draft boards with a bad game against USC, he can make himself a whole bunch of money, and can be the team's key defensive playmaker, if he can keep Dwayne Jarrett or Steve Smith out of the gameplan.

Jarrett, a junior, is also on a bit of a salary drive with first round potential. He's big, fast, tough, and has become more consistent. He was Leinart's go to guy and clutch playmaker, and then he grew into something truly special on the way to becoming the Pac 10's all-time leader in touchdown catches helped by ten scoring grabs this year despite battling through injuries.

Even if Michigan wants to double cover Jarrett, Smith demands full-time attention. The team's leading receiver this year with 64 grabs for 975 yards and eight scores, highlighted by an 11-catch, 258-yard, two touchdown day against Oregon State and an 11-catch, 186-yard, two score day against Washington State, Smith would be the featured, All-America star on just about any other team. Throw Patrick Turner in the mix, and USC has more receiving weapons than any one team should have.

How do you stop the USC targets? Get to John David Booty. UCLA disrupted the timing of the USC passing game and won. Michigan will try the same formula with LaMarr Woodley, a hybrid of outside linebacker and defensive end with the pass rushing burst to be a regular in the backfield and the overall athleticism to hang with most tight ends, if needed, in the passing game. While he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and is a hot NFL prospect, he hit the wall over the final few games of the year and was nearly non-existent in stretches as a pass rusher against Ohio State. Michigan needs him to shine from snap one.

Woodley, RB Mike Hart, QB Chad Henne and WR Mario Manningham are the household names, but the wild card is senior Steve Breaston, who led the team with 51 catches used as a pure possession target. While he needs to find the holes in the USC secondary with most of the attention paid to Manningham and Adrian Arrington on the outside, his real worth should be in other areas. A bust, at least when it comes to potential, as a receiver, Breaston has been phenomenal returning kicks in the last two bowl games taking six kickoffs for 221 yards, to go along with 77 yards and a touchdown on three catches, in the loss to Texas in the 2005 Rose Bowl. He returned four kickoffs for 146 yards and seven punts for 72 yards against Nebraska in last year's Alamo Bowl and is overdue for another breakout.

USC will win if... it doesn't screw up. Michigan is known for its defense, the running of Hart, and the big plays early in the year from Manningham, but it got within shouting distance of the national title by not making mistakes and doing all the little things right. It didn't commit a lot of penalties, led the nation in fewest turnovers lost with a mere ten, and also led the country in third down defense allowing teams to convert just 27% of the time. The Wolverines might not blow it with a lot of errors, and USC can't necessarily force Michigan mistakes, so the Trojans have to be nearly perfect in all phases. Michigan is fast, athletic and talented. USC is faster, more athletic, and more talented.

The USC defense has to do what no one else has been able to and keep Hart in check. It's not like Henne and the Wolverine passing game can't crank out yards in bunches, but they haven't had to carry the offense on a consistent basis. They work best when they catch defenses cheating up to stop Hart and then, at least early in the year, hit home runs with Manningham. The deep, speedy, and talented Trojan linebackers have to swarm and make Henne try to win the game.

Michigan will win if... it gets to Booty. Troy Smith picked the Michigan secondary apart when he had time, and Booty can do the same. USC actually outsacked UCLA in the loss, but the Bruins front four got consistent pressure and threw the passing game off track. The Wolverines have to get as much of a push as possible up front and has to smack Booty even when he gets his throws off. No, they don't have to be dirty, but they do have to get to him enough to make him hear footsteps every time he drops back.

While the Michigan D has to worry about getting a consistent pass rush, it also has to get its elite run defense back on track. Ranked first in the nation throughout the season giving up just 43 yards per game, if it holds USC under 100, it'll likely get the win. USC is 10-0 when it ran for 100 yards or more and 0-2 when it didn't gaining just 86 yards against Oregon State and 55 against UCLA.

What will happen: It's USC and Pete Carroll in a bowl game vs. Michigan and Lloyd Carr. As good as the Wolverines and the coaching staff might be, who would you rather have? Of course the Trojans know they have to protect Booty at all costs. Of course they know they have to make adjustments from the USC game. The time off between games helps USC more than Michigan since they needed to make more adjustments and was more banged up, even though Michigan had plenty of work to do after the Ohio State loss. USC will get Booty time, he'll pick apart the Michigan secondary, and USC will finish the season number two in a hard-fought classic.

Line: Michigan -2 ... CFN Prediction:
USC 31 ... Michigan 27

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Rose Bowl Player Profile: Michigan DT Alan Branch, team bowl history and more