December 29, 2015

SAN DIEGO (AP) There was a time when playing in the Holiday Bowl in consecutive years would be frowned on by Southern California.

After all, the Trojans have played in 32 Rose Bowls and Pasadena is usually the preferred destination.

These haven't been normal times for the Trojans, though. The last several seasons have been marked by NCAA sanctions, coaching changes and other upheaval.

So the Trojans (8-5) aren't looking at Wednesday night's matchup against No. 23 Wisconsin (9-3) as a consolation prize for being routed by No. 5 Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game.

''We're very proud to be here,'' coach Clay Helton said. ''This is not only one of the elite bowl games for our conference, it's one of the elite bowl games in the nation. For us to be back down in San Diego, it is a tribute to what these seniors have accomplished.''

Those seniors, including quarterback Cody Kessler, have led the Trojans through a wild ride.

''I've been so proud of our seniors,'' Helton said Tuesday. ''We've gone through some adversity here, from coaching changes to sanctions. And to really see a bunch of seniors lead us kind of out of the darkness and into the light, to be part of a Pac-12 South championship and be part of the Pac-12 championship game, it shows the progress that we're making right now in the program.

''It can be a great jump start to our season coming into next year and we're so glad to be playing such a quality team in Wisconsin.''

Helton started the season as offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach. He replaced second-year coach Steve Sarkisian, who was asked to take an indefinite leave of absence on Oct. 11 and then fired the following day.

Wisconsin is under first-year coach Paul Chryst, a Madison native and three-time Badgers letter winner.

Here are some things to look for in the Holiday Bowl:

ROSE BOWL LIGHT: This is the third time the Trojans and Badgers have met in a bowl game. USC beat Wisconsin both times they met in the Rose Bowl, 7-0 in 1953 and 42-37 in 1963. The teams haven't met since 1966.

PRIME TIME: Helton likes the Holiday Bowl's showcase time slot. ''What a matchup, an explosive offense against one of the best defenses in the nation. That makes for good TV,'' he said.

The Trojans blew most of an 18-point, third-quarter lead in last year's Holiday Bowl before beating Nebraska 45-42 behind Kessler, who threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns. ''Last year was fun,'' Helton said.

Can it be crazy this year? ''When you put two great teams together, hopefully that's what the fans get,'' he added.

SCARY DEFENSE: The Badgers lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 13.1 points per game. Helton said Wisconsin's linebackers, led by Joe Schobert, could be the best the Trojans have seen all season. ''They do a tremendous job,'' Helston said. ''You never know where the fourth rusher is coming from. At some point your back is going to be matched up on one of those big guys, and each one of them is 240, 250. Physically, they're a nightmare.''

BADGERS RUNNING GAME: Chryst said he hopes star running back Corey Clement is able to play some on Wednesday night. Clement has missed nine games, most of them due to a sports hernia. The Badgers have 26 rushing touchdowns, three fewer than Melvin Gordon had for them last year. Gordon failed to score a touchdown for the San Diego Chargers before going on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury. Gordon visited the Badgers during practice this week and is expected to be at the game.

LOOKS FAMILIAR: Chryst was tight ends coach for the Chargers from 1999-2001. ''It's pretty neat. We felt really lucky to have lived here for three years,'' Chryst said. He took a look inside the Chargers' locker room at aging Qualcomm Stadium earlier this week. ''They haven't done a lot to it,'' he said. The Chargers could be on their way to Los Angeles. They were 14-34 when Chryst coached under Mike Riley. ''We didn't win as many games as you'd like, but we had some big-time guys,'' he said.

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