Big names in small settings

Postseason games aren't what Pitt, USC expected

December 26, 2009|By From Sun news services

Moments after finishing their last full college practice, Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull and defensive tackle Mick Williams emphasized the importance of their senior class' legacy.

Because of a blown 21-point lead and a botched extra point three weeks earlier, the 17th-ranked Panthers went from a seemingly certain Sugar Bowl berth into a less prestigious trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, where they'll face North Carolina today in a virtual road game.

It has all the traps that lead to a flat performance: a team that wants to be elsewhere dealing with a hostile crowd.

Pittsburgh hasn't won 10 games since 1981, when Dan Marino was firing tight spirals and the Panthers were regular national championship contenders. And if Pitt (9-3) can overcome the disappointment of being so close to a BCS bowl, its matchup with the Tar Heels (8-4) could be one of the top mid-tier bowl games.

Emerald Bowl: This was the year Southern California wanted to stay home for a bowl game.

Instead, the Trojans spent the holidays a few hundred miles north, in San Francisco, where they will take on Boston College tonight while the BCS championship will be held in their backyard at the Rose Bowl.

For a school that has known nothing but Bowl Championship Series games the past seven seasons and always has its sights on playing for a national championship, this could be seen as a letdown.

"People have been asking me the past couple of years if we were disappointed to play in the Rose Bowl, and I never understood that," coach Pete Carroll said. "I can guarantee you that they're going to play this game like it's the national championship game."

USC (8-4) has played in four straight Rose Bowls, including the past three years when the national championship was decided at the other BCS sites and the trip to Pasadena was seen by some as a consolation prize.

With the championship being held at the Rose Bowl for the first time since the Trojans lost to Texas four years ago, they were hoping to stay home again.

That looked to be a real possibility early in the season after USC won at Ohio State behind freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. But then came a loss at Washington, blowouts to Oregon and Stanford and a season-ending loss at home to Arizona that dropped the Trojans into a tie for fifth place in the conference and into the Emerald Bowl against Boston College (8-4).

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Marshall (6-6) and Ohio (9-4) spent nearly a century fighting over a riverboat bell.

Today in Detroit, the teams will meet with something new at stake - the championship of the Pizza Bowl.

The schools, 82 miles apart, played 52 times - the most Marshall has faced any other school - between 1905 and 2004. When Marshall played in the Mid-American Conference from 1997 to 2004, the schools' annual game was called "The Battle for the Bell," with the trophy symbolizing the Ohio River separating Ohio and West Virginia.

While the teams haven't played since the Thundering Herd bolted to Conference USA in 2005, the bowl comes as they were already scheduled to resume their rivalry with a six-year deal that starts in 2010.

Ohio coach Frank Solich knows that his program had some catching up to do. The Bobcats lost seven of the past eight meetings, including the final four, after dominating the first 75 years of the series.

"There was a time early on when Ohio did pretty well against Marshall," Solich said. "That wasn't the case at the end, though."

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