Thursday December 24th, 2009

USC (8-4) vs. Boston College (8-4) Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch: Morbid curiosity? USC's season-long tumble into mediocrity culminates with its first pre-BCS bowl in eight years. Just to compound their indignity, the Trojans will be without two starters, tight end Anthony McCoy and tackle Tyron Smith, who are academically ineligible, and possibly tailback Joe McKnight, who's under investigation for his use of an SUV. USC is presumably more talented than BC, but will the Trojans be motivated? "If we come out here and go through the motions," said receiver Damian Williams, "we are gonna get beat."

Keep an eye on: The signal callers. Both teams start true freshman quarterbacks -- only one is six years older than the other. USC's Matt Barkley, 19, is a former high school Gatorade National Player of the Year who won the Trojans' starting job in August. BC's Dave Shinksie, 25, spent the past six years playing minor league baseball and took over the Eagles' starting job four weeks into the season. Both had their ups and downs: Shinksie threw 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions; Barkley 13 and 12.

Did you know: This year marks the ninth straight season the Eagles have won at least eight games -- and this one may have been their most surprising. Following a tumultuous offseason in which the program lost its head coach (Jeff Jagodzinski) and watched its top defensive player (Mark Herzlich) battle cancer, ACC media picked the Eagles to finish last in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Instead, they finished second.

Final analysis: It's impossible to gauge the Trojans' mindset. They could well mail it in. However, while USC's defense struggled against some of the Pac-10's more explosive offenses (Oregon, Stanford) it shouldn't have as much trouble with the Eagles' 98th-ranked attack. Expect the Trojans to throw in some wrinkles offensively (as they have in past bowl games) to allow Barkley to break out of his second-half funk.

The pick: USC 24, Boston College 14.

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