Iowa embracing chance to face ‘name-brand’ USC

The Hawkeyes will get a chance to face a historically dominant USC program in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.


Robert Gauthier

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) drops back to pass against UCLA during the third quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. USC won, 52-35. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

On Dec. 27, it’ll be fashion, movies, and big city lights versus cornfields, cowboys, and a small-town vibe.

While those stereotypes may or may not be true across the city or state, the play styles of Iowa and USC — which will face off in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego — are just as different as the cultures surrounding the colleges.

The Hawkeyes are known for turning under-recruited players into legitimate NFL prospects through hard work and player development, while the Trojans are a blue-chip program with a history that includes 11 national titles.

“Being able to go up against a name-brand team with a lot of exposure, just being able to match up with them, [we’re] looking forward to it,” wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “A lot of eyes. USC, you got a lot of big names that came from that school. Just being able to go out there and match up with them and show them what the Big Ten’s about — it’s pretty big.”

The matchup will be Iowa’s first against a Pac-12 team since its 45-16 loss to then-No. 16 Stanford in the 2016 Rose Bowl.

The Hawkeyes, who boast a 3-7 record against the Pac-12 in bowl games, last beat a team from the conference in 1995, when it toppled Washington 38-18 in the Sun Bowl.

In that time frame, the Trojans have taken home national titles during the Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush-led 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Iowa holds only a 2-7 record against USC. It beat the Trojans in 1950 and 1961, but its latest loss — a 28-17 defeat in the 2003 Orange Bowl — left a bitter taste for the Hawkeyes.

The opportunity to face such a historically dominant program doesn’t come around every season, so Iowa will relish its opportunity.

“This is what we were rooting for on the inside — we weren’t able to say anything, but this is definitely what we were rooting for,” cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “…With an opponent like USC, if we get a win, it’s a legitimate win. So, I think this is the perfect opportunity for us.”

This Trojan team may not be the same as some of the teams that have come out of Southern California in the past, but it has posted solid victories throughout the season.

USC picked up a win over current No. 12 Utah — which will head to the Alamo Bowl to face Texas — and its four losses have come at the hands of BYU in overtime, Washington, Notre Dame, and Oregon. Those teams own a combined 35-14 record.

The Trojans have been a team forced to come up with a plan on the fly. Starting quarterback J.T. Daniels went down with a torn ACL in the second quarter of USC’s season-opener against Fresno State.

Since then, Kedon Slovis has taken over the starting role, amassing 3,242 yards, 28 touchdowns, and nine interceptions while completing 71.8 percent of his passes.

But in USC’s victory over the Utes, third-stringer Matt Fink took over and threw for 351 yards, three touchdowns, and a pick on 21-of-30 passing.

Despite missing out on a bowl last season, this Trojan squad has found out how to climb the mountain once again. But Iowa’s still looking to knock it down.

“When you think of college football, you think like Alabama, USC — the schools like that, the more famous schools,” defensive end A.J. Epenesa said.

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