2008 Rose Bowl Preview and Pick: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. USC Trojans

Illinois Fighting Illini (9-3) +13.5, 50 O/U vs. Southern California
(10-2) -13.5, 50 O/U, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California, 4:30 PM
Eastern, Tuesday, January 1st

by Badger of Predictem.com

The Rose Bowl stuck with the traditional Big-10/Pac-10 format when
they chose the Illinois Fighting Illini to represent the Big-10
versus Pac-10 winner Southern California.

Many pundits in the national media are annoyed with the BCS selection
of Illinois, but the Illini are an explosive team that stunned Ohio
State in the Horseshoe on November 10th (28-21), then finished the
year with a route of Northwestern, 41-22 on November 17th, their
fourth win in a row.

Southern Cal stumbled mid-season when injuries started to mount with
quarterback John David Booty and multiple offensive linemen all
missing time. But USC is healthy and rolling again, winning four
straight themselves including the 24-7 win over rival UCLA on
December 1st.

Oddsmakers opened the Rose Bowl with USC as a 13.5-point favorite.
The over/under total was set at 50.

The Illinois offense features the veer/read running attack of
quarterback Juice Williams. Williams is capable of busting big runs
(774 yds, 7 TDs) with his legs, but throwing the ball is where he
struggles at times despite good numbers (1,498 yds., 13 TD). Running
back Robert Mendenhall (1,313 yds., 17 TDs) can also hit the homerun
on any given play, and receiver Arrelious Benn is dangerous as a
returner too the Illini have plenty of weapons for a team that
averages just 423.3 total yards (36th) and 28.8 points per game (55th).

USC is a pro-style and pro caliber offense led by quarterback John
David Booty. Booty missed a few games midseason with a broken finger,
but has returned strong to still salvage a 2,000-yards/20-touchdown
season. The Trojans can go six-deep with All-Americans at running
back (four different guys with 2 or more TDs), but Chauncey
Washington has emerged as the go-to guy (894 yds., 10 TDs). Once USC
establishes a steady diet of Washington, they float TE Fred Davis
(794 yds., 7 TDs) over the middle with a play-action passing game
that Booty excels at throwing. USC is a far more dangerous team then
their 41st in total yards (418.4) and 42nd in scoring (31.2) indicates.

This stands to be an interesting game defensively, since on paper the
Trojans strength on defense (3rd in country vs. run 79.2 ypg.) will
be tested by Illinois running game (5th in rushing yards 266.2
per). USC should have little trouble stopping the passing game of
Illinois though, so look for the Trojans 8th-ranked pass defense to
bring a safety into the box for run-support instead.

Illinois has what is best described as a bend-but-dont-break
defense. They give up some yards (355.4 per 42nd) and are
vulnerable to the pass (over 240 yards per game 78th), which could
be a big problem versus USC. They do stiffen in the red zone though,
as the Illini are 19th overall allowing 19.5 points per game.

These two teams last played each other in September of 1996, a game
won by USC 55-3. This means nothing to Illinois, since none of the
current players or head coach Ron Zook were around, but it does add
to the Trojans 4-0 ATS record versus Illinois since 1985.

USC covered three straight before showing mercy on UCLA and not
running up the score (24-7) to cover a large number (-19.5). The
Trojans are still a great team to bet the under too, look at these
betting trends: under is 16-5 overall in last 21 games; under is also
15-3 in last 18 on grass and 17-5 in last 22 games as the favorite.

Illinois is also a strong under play, with it going 10-1 in the
Illinis last 11 games on grass. They have covered in three straight
games to finish the season (after failing to cover three straight)
and are 7-4 ATS overall in 2007.

The big -13.5 point spread for USC has surprisingly stayed firm
during the first week of betting. You can find a few sportsbookies online that
have dropped it to 13, but not many. The opening total of 50 has also
been steady, moving only a half-point either way at a few books.

Badgers Pick: I like Illinois in this game. The Fighting Illinois
are better than everyone is giving them credit for, but I dont blame
the sportsbooks for the really high spread. USC is a very popular bet
for people with real money to spend (i.e.- Hollywood and the LA
crowd). I still think USC wins this one, just not by that big of a
score (maybe 31-21). Take Illinois and the points.