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Rose Bowl Game early look: No. 5 Penn State vs. No. 9 USC

The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual will be the last of three scheduled bowl games between the Big Ten and Pac-12. This one will kick off at 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 2 in Pasadena, California.

Here’s an early look at what to expect when the No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2) take on the No. 9 USC Trojans (9-3):

How Penn State beats you: Balanced offensive attack. If you stack the box to slow down running back Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Trace McSorley is bound to tear up the secondary. Focus on McSorley, and Barkley is poised to run wild. This offense is versatile enough to beat opponents in different ways, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. McSorley is coming off his best two games of the season, both of which, statistically, rank among the 10 best Penn State passing performances of the past 12 years. And when Barkley isn’t hit behind the line of scrimmage, he’s averaging 7.6 yards per carry this season. -- Josh Moyer

How USC beats you: What’s been impressive about USC’s turnaround is that it hasn’t been as a result of just one thing, specifically. The defense has handled both the run and the pass well, the offense has dynamic playmakers at running back and receiver, and Adoree' Jackson is probably the most dangerous kick and punt returner in the country. This is a well-balanced team that wins in a variety of ways. The Trojans' offensive line gives quarterback Sam Darnold plenty of time, and when there are breakdowns, the redshirt freshman has the ability to create on his own. -- Kyle Bonagura

How to beat Penn State: Stop the big play. Sure, that’s easier said than done, but that’s the key to this entire offense. The Nittany Lions are among the nation’s worst at third downs (32.1 percent conversion rate) and aren’t built for long, sustained drives. They’ve been so explosive, they really haven’t needed to be. Against Wisconsin, for example, Penn State wound up with 435 yards, and more than half of that total came on just six plays. On the flip side, it’s no coincidence that Penn State’s worst offensive output came against Michigan, which held the Nittany Lions to a season-low two plays that went for at least 20 yards. -- Josh Moyer

How to beat USC: There are clear similarities among the three teams the Trojans lost to this season: Alabama, Stanford and Utah have reputations for being among the most physical teams in the country. When Alabama and Stanford asserted that physicality over USC early, the Trojans did not respond well. Granted, that was September, and USC has grown tremendously since then, but if Penn State establishes a physical edge, that would be a good start. Darnold hasn’t done a whole lot wrong since stepping into the starting role, but turnovers have been an issue. The turnover margin is what allowed Utah to win and Colorado to stay close. -- Kyle Bonagura

Penn State X factor: McSorley. Barkley might receive most of the Heisman hype, but even he admitted earlier this is McSorley’s team. Penn State’s redshirt sophomore quarterback is in the midst of a record-breaking season -- he already holds the school’s single-season records in passing yards (3,360) and passing touchdowns (25) -- and he absolutely dominated a stingy Wisconsin defense. In fact, McSorley’s 384 passing yards were the most the Badgers allowed since the 2009 season. When McSorley is on, few in the nation are better. -- Josh Moyer

USC X factor: Adoree' Jackson on offense. He won the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back, and we already touched on what he means in the return game. But with this much time to prepare, Jackson figures to have an expanded role in USC's offense, too. After recording 27 receptions in 2015, he had only one reception this season, but it came in the regular-season finale against Notre Dame and went for a 52-yard touchdown. He’ll be the one guy Penn State defenders will be on the lookout for because they know he can quickly change the game. -- Kyle Bonagura

Moyer’s bold prediction: Penn State scores at least five touchdowns. With the Nittany Lions’ offensive pace, maybe this doesn’t seem so bold. But the fact is that USC has still been impressive defensively in a pass-happy Pac-12. USC hasn’t allowed more than 27 points since September and has shut down prolific offenses such as Washington. But Barkley-McSorley is arguably the best 1-2 punch in the nation, and Penn State's offense never stays contained for long.

Bonagura’s bold prediction: USC receiver Jalen Greene throws a touchdown pass. Since quarterback Max Browne has committed to Pittsburgh as a graduate transfer and will miss USC's bowl game, Greene is preparing at both receiver and backup QB. He’ll see time there only if something happens to Darnold, but since Greene is getting more reps at quarterback, just in case, it would make sense for the Trojans to let him throw it at least once.