Holiday Bowl: USC Trojans vs. Wisconsin Badgers

USC to face Wisconsin in Holiday Bowl (1:49)

Mark May and Robert Smith preview USC's matchup against Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl. (1:49)

National Funding Holiday Bowl: USC Trojans vs. Wisconsin Badgers

Date: Dec. 30, 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Location: San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium

USC Trojans

Best moment: USC’s 40-21 win against UCLA not only sent the Trojans to their first Pac-12 championship game, but it likely played a big part in the Clay Helton being named the permanent head coach. The result wasn’t the reason Helton was hired, but a loss to UCLA would have made him a tougher sell for athletic director Pat Haden. The dominating win ended a three-year losing streak to the Bruins.

Lowest moment: On the field, it was a 17-12 loss to Washington in which USC appeared confused and under-prepared. Three days later, coach Steve Sarkisian was suspended indefinitely only to be fired the next day. The season could have unraveled from there, but Helton stepped in and did an outstanding job to navigate the program through another set of strange circumstances.

Key player: WR/CB/RET Adoree' Jackson. Jackson can affect the game in more ways than almost anyone in the country. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection at cornerback, proved to be an effective option at receiver and returned punts for touchdowns in the last two regular-season games.

Motivation level: After getting drubbed by Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, the letdown of not getting to play in the Rose Bowl has to be a concern. Even so, the players’ admiration for Helton should carry some weight. The last thing they’ll want is for him to catch heat headed into the offseason, especially after a disappointing showing in his first game as the permanent head coach.

-- Kyle Bonagura

Wisconsin Badgers

Best moment: The Badgers' most thrilling highlight came when kicker Rafael Gaglianone buried a game-winning 46-yard field goal with four seconds left at Nebraska on Oct. 10. It came a little more than a minute after Gaglianone missed a potential game-winner. The victory helped Wisconsin avoid a 3-3 start that would have sent fans into a tailspin about the state of the program.

Lowest moment: Four turnovers in the team's Big Ten opener against Iowa cost Wisconsin a shot at controlling the West Division. The crushing blow came when quarterback Joel Stave tripped on his offensive lineman and fumbled at Iowa's 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, helping the Hawkeyes secure the win.

Key player: Outside linebacker Joe Schobert was the only player on the team to be named as a first-team all-Big Ten selection. Schobert, the conference’s linebacker of the year, has 18.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. He also has tied the school's single-season record for forced fumbles with five.

Motivation level: This has not been a typical Badgers season. They didn't play well enough to reach the Big Ten title game -- a contest they reached in three of the first four years of the event. But Wisconsin should still feel as though it has something to prove, particularly because it hasn't beaten a single team with a winning record this season.

-- Jesse Temple