Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A Penn State team that struggled to gain respect despite dominant results gets a chance to earn plenty against college football's most respected program in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi.
The Nittany Lions will be underdogs in their first Rose Bowl appearance since Jan. 1, 1995, and they'll face a USC team that has captured the last two Rose Bowls and hasn't lost to a Big Ten team since falling to Penn State in the 1996 Kickoff Classic.
Penn State's toughest challenge will be finding ways to decode a USC defense that statistically could be one of the best in college football history. The Lions' Spread HD offense is most effective when aggressive, and junior quarterback Daryll Clark will have to attack a talent-stocked Trojans secondary with senior wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.
Though the Lions have an excellent offensive line and strong rushing attack with Evan Royster, Clark and Williams, they might need to take some risks down the field to set up the run.
Points could be hard to come by for Penn State, and the Lions need to be polished on defense and special teams to beat USC. The Lions' underrated defense ranks fifth nationally and boasts standouts in end Aaron Maybin and linebacker Navorro Bowman. Williams is one of the nation's top return men and needs a strong performance to help Penn State win the field-position battle.