ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Penn State and Southern California visited Disneyland on Tuesday, starting the festivities leading up to the Rose Bowl.
It was a trip neither team could have imagined making on the first day of October.
The Trojans were 1-3, having turned to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback and dropping all five games against Power 5 opposition since Clay Helton was named head coach the previous November. The Nittany Lions were 3-2 with an overtime win at Minnesota just days after coach James Franklin had received a public vote of confidence from athletic director Sandy Barbour. The chaos that had defined both programs since meeting in the 2009 Rose Bowl was threatening to consume another season.
Neither team would lose again, with No. 5 Penn State (11-2) winning its last nine games to end the regular season and No. 9 USC (9-3) winning its final eight games. Both teams would beat conference foes that ended up reaching the College Football Playoff.
USC defeated both division champions that played for the Pac-12 title. Penn State would win the Big Ten, which is when USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster noticed the similar trajectories of both programs this season.
''It was suddenly like, `Wow, both teams went through the darkness to find the light.' And we both fought our way out,'' Smith-Schuster said. ''I think this game right here is going to be historic.''
But before the history comes the pageantry, including stops at the two Disney theme parks and Lawry's Prime Rib steakhouse for the annual Beef Bowl later this week.
During a ceremony at Disney California Adventure to welcome the two teams, USC right tackle Zach Banner wore sparkly Minnie Mouse ears, complete with a red bow. Later, Banner and Darnold squeezed themselves into an anthropomorphic cartoon Fiat as Helton took photos on his smartphone.
Banner has been to the theme parks enough to know which rides weren't exactly designed for 360-pound offensive linemen.
''Every single roller coaster and everything that involves a bar coming down over your legs and being 6-foot-9, it's hard,'' Banner said. ''That being said, I think we're going to have a good time on the Tea Cups.''
Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, the lone player on the roster from California, is serving as tour guide for the Nittany Lions. Farmer was offering wide receiver Chris Godwin the scouting report on what rides not to miss, while also helping plan excursions to Santa Monica and Hollywood.
''Some of these guys have never been to LA. I feel like I'm the last one going to sleep and the first one waking up because they're all like, `Oh Koa, what are we doing today?' It's fun. I want them to have a good time,'' said Farmer, who spent Christmas at home in the San Fernando Valley before joining his teammates at the team hotel on Monday. ''Some guys have never seen the Chinese Theatre, the stars (on the Walk of Fame). I like seeing those guys enjoy this time.''
With USC practicing on campus leading up to Monday afternoon's game, Helton treated each of the last two weeks as a mock game week so players could enjoy the various activities associated with the Rose Bowl without interfering in preparations.
''Once you get in this atmosphere there are distractions,'' Helton said.
But no one associated with Penn State or USC is treating the week as a distraction, not after overcoming so much turmoil to make it to the Rose Bowl.
''The best thing to know is that all this stuff - Disneyland, Lawry's, all these things that come with the Rose Bowl - these amazing things, we earned it,'' Banner said.