Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Iowa Pick
USC Trojans (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS)
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
Date and Time: Friday, December 27, 2019 at 8PM EST
Where: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, California
TV: Fox Sports One
Point Spread: USC +2/IOWA -2 (SportsBetting.ag)
Over/Under Total: 52
The USC Trojans take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 27. Both had pretty good seasons, with USC 8-4 and Iowa 9-3. The Trojans last played on November 23, with a 52-35 win over UCLA. Iowa last played on November 29 with a 27-24 win over Nebraska. Each team carries some momentum into this game with three straight wins each, but both will need to overcome the long break. Who has a better chance to surface at full-power for this bowl battle?
The More Reliable Force This Season
On one hand, the Trojans were a tad better against the spread. And they deserve some points for overcoming a slew of injuries at all levels of the team, along with a fair amount of discord among the brass, with AD Lynn Swann retiring midway through the season and with coach Clay Helton on the hot-seat. They commendably stayed on the right track and still managed a decent season, showing some grit and having developed a lot of depth working through all the personnel issues.
From a results standpoint, however, the nod goes to Iowa. USC did some good things this season like beat Utah, among their seven Pac-12 wins. But in losing to BYU and Notre Dame, while getting hammered by Washington and Oregon showed they were a cut below the elite. Iowa’s shortcomings are less-conclusive, one-score losses at Michigan and against Penn State and a 2-point loss at Wisconsin. They were right there and a few twists here and a few turns there, we could be looking at an Iowa team that is flirting with greatness this season.
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Can USC’s Offense Thrive in this Spot?
When all else fails with the Trojans, you can at least count on an abundance of offensive firepower. We saw improvements throughout the season, with some significant strides made by freshman Kedon Slovis at quarterback with 28 TD passes. The break should give him enough time to recover from a hit to the head in the last game. They have a run that can set up the pass with a cabaret of talented backs. Michael Pittman is one of the more dangerous receivers in the conference, with big help from Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Toward the end of the season, we saw this group at their best more often than not.
It’s just that after watching the Trojans offense struggle against some of the better defenses they faced this season, one wonders how it will come off against a powerful Hawkeyes’ defense. One of the best all-around units in the nation, the Iowa “D,” has no real weaknesses—a well-balanced group that has a tremendous secondary to wield on the Trojans and a run-defense where there isn’t much falloff. On the season, they’ve allowed an average of 13.2 points—an astounding total when playing the Big Ten heavyweights they faced this season. With peaking defensive end AJ Epenesa leading the pass-rush and on a torrid run of late, LB Kristian Welch all over the field making plays, and difference-making defensive backs like Jack Koerner, Matt Hankins, and Michael Ojemudia, they have a lot to throw at a USC offense that isn’t exactly foolproof.
Issues With Iowa
The Hawkeyes have won their last two bowl spots under longtime coach Kirk Ferentz, after losing their previous five in a row. This is a foreign locale for the Hawkeyes, who did appear in this game twice, including one unforgettable match with San Diego State under Hayden Fry back in the ’80s, so it’s not like they don’t have a history in this game. Despite the time off, they enter this game a bit compromised, in the area where they can least afford it on offense with WR Brandon Smith and leading rusher Tyler Goodson still questionable for this game. This is a game where their defense can deliver, but they’re likely going to need to put up more points than the 23 points they average a game. It’s just a little disconcerting that on an offense with so little star-power, they might not even be near 100% for this matchup. However, on a team with no stars, depth is their main asset on offense.
Still, there is an understated level of excellence with Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. The efficient and steely field general might not set the world on fire, as that’s not even the Hawkeyes’ game, but he is solid and dependable. There have been slipups, namely the three picks he threw in an otherwise winnable game against Michigan. And the USC offense, while not always stout, can get turnovers and might be more in their wheelhouse against an Iowa offense that isn’t among the best they’ve seen this season by a long shot.
Take the Favorite
From a very simplistic standpoint, Iowa was closer to what they wanted to be this season than the Trojans. There is a lot to say about a team that just seems to extract the most of what they have. There may have been a few close ones the Hawkeyes could have won, but you can’t ask for more than a 9-3 season from this group. There were fewer peaks and valleys and more of a straight line of consistency over the course of the season. The USC offense is a definite concern for Iowa, but still, a unit that played with a wide range of form this season, with the quality of the opposing defense usually being a reliable metric. And they’re up against one of the best they have faced this season. I see the Hawkeyes grinding out the win and cover in the Holiday Bowl. I’ll take Iowa.
Loot’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Iowa Hawkeyes minus 2 points.