Well with the New Year's holiday coming up it only means one thing....ROSE BOWL! I've registered my disgust for the BCS system at length for giving Michigan the shaft and putting Florida in the BCS title game, but as much as I'm still angry about that, I can't help but get psyched up for the Rose Bowl. Having grown up a Michigan fan it's been programmed into me that going to the Rose Bowl is a big deal so it's impossible for me not to get amped up for this. I'm hoping this is the year Michigan breaks their little bowl losing streak (which is now up to three games....) and get a big W that can propel them to big things next season, but let's take a look at how these teams match up....
Chad Henne (MICH) vs. John David Booty (USC)
Chad Henne has started every game he's played since walking on Michigan's campus three years ago. He lead the team to a Rose Bowl his freshman year and came within a field goal of getting the win. He's probably going to have all the Michigan passing records when he leaves school (thank God....nobody wants John Navarre's name up there) but won't get the respect he deserves until he comes through and gets a win in a big game. He's 0-3 against Ohio State, although he played his ass off against the Buckeyes this season, and he's 0-3 in Bowl Games. His advantage could be that he's played in many big games where his opponent...not so much. Henne's problem is that he sails the ball a bit at times, and there are times when he takes sacks when he should just get rid of the ball. When left in the pocket he will pick you apart, but if you get some pressure up in his face it rattles him a bit. He did handle it better against Ohio State which could mean that he's turned the corner.
John David Booty came onto campus when Carson Palmer left for the NFL and thought he was going to compete for the starting job, but then Matt Leinart bitch his ass to the bench for three years. Finally with Leinart gone Booty got his chance to get on the field and shine...and he's done alright. I don't really know if Booty is really good or that he lucks out by having some ridiculous receivers. Watched a few USC games this year and it seemed like he was a little off in his accuracy and was bailed out by Jarrett and Smith. He has not played in many big games, in fact I really would only count Notre Dame and UCLA as his "big games" and he played decent. The Michigan defense will cause him fits and he's shown (in the UCLA game) that he doesn't handle pressure that well. He will get pressured here and will have to deal with it from start to finish.
Mike Hart (MICH) vs. Chauncey Washington (USC)
I don't really think this is much of a contest as Mike Hart is the heart and soul of Michigan and a 2007 Heisman Candidate and Washington is just starting to come out of the shadow of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Hart has shown that he is gritty and tough against some of the toughest rush defenses in college football (see 143 yards against Ohio State) which is something Washington has yet to show. Against a decent rush defense in UCLA he was only able to put up 55 yards. Michigan is much better then UCLA when it comes to stopping the run (and pretty much everything else...) so I see the Wolverines making the Trojans pretty one dimensional in this game. Hart will have a tough go against the USC defense but he has shown the ability to step up and get his yards against a tough defense so I still expect him to play pretty well.
Mario Manningham/Adrian Arrington (MICH) vs. Dwayne Jarrett/Steve Smith (USC)
This group could very well be the group that decides this game. Both teams are going to have to go to the air (USC more so the Michigan) because both teams have the ability to stifle the run. Manningham has shown the ability to be a huge playmaker and Michigan's offense is completely different when he's on the field. In games he's started and played significant time this season Michigan has averaged over 30 points a game. When he's not in Michigan only averaged a little over 20. Arrington has also shown the ability to make the tough catches and be a great number two receiver.
But in the end USC wins this matchup because Dwayne Jarrett is ridiculous. He's fast, makes acrobatic catches and comes up big in big games. He'll be a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft if (when) he comes out after the season. Here's the kicker, for as good as Jarrett is, Smith has had a better year on paper. That just shows you how good these two receivers are. If USC is going to win this game these guys need to come up big because Booty is probably going to be running for his life from the Michigan pass rush.
Michigan's offensive line switched to the zone blocking scheme this offseason and it helped revitalize a rushing attack that had fallen off in 2005 (also I Mike Hart not being injured helped a bit as well). They also are pretty good at keeping off the pass rush, but sometimes they have trouble picking up the blitz. USC has a good rush defense, but are lacking a little in pass rush, but in order to win Michigan will have to run the ball and set up the playaction pass so Michigan's objective should be to get Mike Hart going and and that should take care of any USC pass rush.
USC's offensive line is their big weakness. Against a team like UCLA they weren't able to run at all and they also showed they had problems with fast defensive ends. Michigan happens to have two fast defensive ends which could cause the Trojans fits. This could be the tipping point in this matchup. Can USC's O-line stop Michigan? I think the answer will be no...
I'm grouping the front seven together as in college football they all play off each other a lot. Michigan's front four is probably the best in college football at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. Their linebacking corp is also very good, although Prescott Burgess misses some tackles from time to time. The key to this game will be whether Michigan can pressure Booty without having to blitz linebackers. If LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch can get to the QB consistently that means Michigan can drop their linebackers back into coverage, making it harder for the Trojans to get a passing game going. USC's line has shown a weakness in this area which could be where Michigan wins it....
USC is good at stopping the run. They've shown that throughout the season. They showed it against quality competition (see: Lynch, Marshawn)...but....I think Michigan will be able to at least get a decent rushing game going against the Trojans which means they will have to show the ability to get a pass rush on Henne. I think they will able to pressure Henne, but I also think Michigan's ability to run will hurt the Trojan pass rush and therefore allow Michigan's offense to get a few good drives.
In the end I think Michigan's front seven will dictate what USC offense does in this game, while Michigan's offense will dictate what USC's front seven does...
This is probably Michigan's weakest point. They are decent in the secondary but not great. Leon Hall is a stud but he can only cover one man. Michigan's pass rush is key because with the receiving talent USC has the ability to shred the Wolverine secondary if given enough time to do so.
Same could probably be said for the Trojans secondary but overall they are a little bit better then the Wolverines. This seems to be a weakness for both defenses, and whether or not they get burned will be completely based on whether either team can pressure the quarterback.
Lloyd Carr (MICH) vs. Pete Carroll (USC)
Lloyd has been on the good and bad side of the Ohio State rivalry. He dominated John Cooper and has been dominated by Jim Tressell. Does that mean he's forgotten how to coach? No. That just means that Tressell has had better talent the past couple of years and even with that Michigan has yet to be blown out in any game against the Buckeyes. Lloyd hasn't won a bowl game since 2003 and two of losses were in the Rose Bowl. Is Lloyd a bad big game coach? I don't think so, but he hasn't proven that he's a good big game coach either.
Pete Carroll, however, has shown to be a pretty good big game coach. He's won two national titles and came within a Vince Young comeback of a third. Some will question the thinking of leaving Reggie Bush off the field on fourth and one in last year's Rose Bowl but that's probably nitpicking a bit. Carroll's "feel good" vibe works in college football and due to Lloyd's recent missteps in big games he gets the nod here...
Last year's Michigan team went 7-5 and was embarrassed and angry. This season they made it a point to show everyone that last year was a fluke and that this was still a good team. They've done a fantastic job at that so far (save for that loss in Columbus) The Michigan seniors have not won a bowl game and they don't want to go out 0-4 (with an 0-3 in the Rose Bowl). Michigan also has a rather large chip on their shoulder having been screwed out of the National Title game and will want to show the voters (Jim Walden I'm looking your way) that they screwed up. Some say Michigan may be off because of the anger over not being in the title game. I don't think so. This team has dealt with the sting of loss and come back from it, they will be ready.
USC hasn't dealt with losing too much. Most of these guys have only lost a total of three games in their careers. After the choke job they pulled against UCLA one would have to wonder how they will respond. The advantage they have here is that they are at home essentially so that will help a bit, but it will also provide family distractions and alike that Michigan won't have quite as much of. USC has played in big games and won them (very recently) so they know how to approach these games.
In the end I think Michigan has a lot to prove and are ready to prove it and that goes over USC's big game experience
I think Michigan turns USC into a one dimensional passing team, and that will allow the corners to play off a bit and for the pass rush to be in Booty's face all game. I think Mike Hart will find a way to run against the USC defense and with that Michigan will be able to get a big play or two from the play-action pass. This game will be close throughout but Michigan will put a little distance between them and the Trojans in the fourth quarter and ride the wave to preseason number one for 2007 with the win....
Final Score: Michigan 31 USC 21