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December 30, 2006 "The Grandaddy of Them All" has the best BCS matchup of the season, and this game is a wonderful consolation prize to these two teams who had their eyes set on a showdown with the Buckeyes in Glendale. Any Pac-10/Big Ten pairing is welcome in the Rose Bowl for tradition's sake, but these two teams are a dream matchup. Both squads lost to Texas in the last two Rose Bowl games, so now this provides an opportunity to win the ultimate prize for these conferences. USC and Michigan hit the field on Monday in Pasadena!

ROSE BOWL - #6-Southern Cal vs #2-Michigan
January 1 - 4:00 PM CST ABC - Pasadena, CA

How they got here...

Michigan rolled over an overrated Notre Dame team in South Bend in September and never stopped winning after that until November 18. Judgment Day in Columbus was quite the showcase, and Michigan almost won their way into the BCS Title game even in a losing effort. USC won the Pac-10 title but finished with two surprising losses to Oregon State and UCLA in the process. The Trojans also had a win-and-get-in opportunity to make their way into the BCS Title game, but perhaps they got caught looking ahead for the first time in Pete Carroll's tenure at USC. There's almost no doubt these two teams are fighting for second place in college football if Ohio State wins the title.

The stars...

Both quarterbacks look like great veterans, although USC's John David Booty (2956 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT) did not start until this year while Michigan's Chad Henne (2199 yards, 20 TD, 7 INT) is in his third year of starting. Although it is hard to imagine Michigan's trio of wide receivers being outclassed, Mario Manningham, Steve Breaston, and Adrian Arrington look average when compared with USC's Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, and Patrick Turner. Michigan does have an advantage in the running game, as Mike Hart does not make mistakes and gets better as games drag on. The stars continue on defense, but Michigan's DE Lamarr Woodley looked good in every game this year, including the offensive blowout in Columbus. There's much more star power here, but it would be hard to cover them all in this small section.

The unsung heroes...

For USC, the unsung heroes on offense are the emerging rushing duo of junior Chauncey Washington and freshman C.J. Gable. These guys have made a difference in how defenses must attack the Trojan offense, and that alone helps USC roll down the field. Southern Cal also has a great set of linebackers in Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, and Dallas Sartz who will become household names after this game, just like Hawk, Carpenter, and Schlegel last season at Ohio State. For the Wolverines, the unsung heroes come on the defense, where Lamarr Woodley has three other great talents to aid him in the front seven in LB Prescott Burgess, LB Dave Harris, and DT Alan Branch. These guys lead one of the best defenses in Michigan history, but the Wolverines will need to step up more than they did against the Buckeyes.

The coaches...

You really cannot ask for much more on the sidelines than the men these teams employ. Lloyd Carr is midway through a second decade in Ann Arbor, and he may be on the verge of leading the Wolverines to their second split national title this season. The only knock on Carr is that he has had trouble recently in bowl games and against Ohio State, but this Wolverine team is one to make even the late Bo Schembechler proud. Pete Carroll is probably the best coach in college football today (by a small bit over Jim Tressel and others), and the staff around him includes stars such as Norm Chow. USC has won five straight league titles and has been in the national title race each of the past five seasons. These two coaches are one great reason to tune in on New Year's Day.

The keys to the game...

[#1] The first key will be how both teams recover from losing their final regular season games and missing Glendale by narrow margins. This game could be decided in the first quarter if one team gets off on the wrong foot. Both teams must focus on the task and opportunity at hand.

[#2] The second key will be how quickly Mike Hart can establish himself and the Michigan running game. If Hart is breaking through to the second level of defenders in the first half, the Trojans will be in for a long second half. Hart cannot make a mistake either, as his consistency keeps the Wolverines close in tough games.

[#3] The third key will be if Michigan's great defense can stop USC's passing game. Michigan has only faced one other team with comparable offensive talent, and the Wolverine defense got burned for 500 yards of offense and 42 points. Michigan has a better defense on paper than USC and that should make the difference, but that's only if they can actually stop the Trojans.

The x-factor...

The x-factor will be special teams play. Michigan's Steve Breaston has not broken out a huge play this season returning kicks, but this could be the game to make the biggest difference of all. Both units have return guys who can break the big one, but I think Breaston's day will determine a lot of the outcome of this game (field position could be everything).

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

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