EL PASO, Texas — A season that began with so much promise for Southern California will end Monday in a place few would have expected to see the Trojans.
USC started the season No. 1 in the country with a quarterback favored to win the Heisman Trophy. Losses to Stanford and Oregon took the Trojans out of the national title picture, and losses to Arizona, rival UCLA and then finally to Notre Dame sent them tumbling to second-tier bowl status.
Instead of the BCS, the Trojans (7-5) will face Georgia Tech (6-7) in Sun Bowl. Both teams are unranked and riding two-game losing streaks, and USC will be without injured quarterback Matt Barkley (shoulder).
Barkley’s injury means that redshirt freshman Max Wittek will get his second start. The first was the 22-13 loss to Notre Dame in which he was 14 of 23 passing for 186 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said he doesn’t expect USC to change much offensively with Wittek.
“Surely he’s an excellent player,” Johnson said of Barkley, “but I think the young man that played in his place is also very talented. We only had the one game to break it down, but you can see he’s got good feet, a very strong arm and he’s very capable. I doubt they’re going to change what they do.”
And neither will Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, with their triple-option offense, are fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 323 yards per game. Quarterback Tevin Washington has run for 19 touchdowns.
“It’s very difficult (to prepare for),” Kiffin said of Tech’s offense. “Luckily, we had a month to prepare for it. I don’t know how people do it in a week. It took us a week to get the (scout) team to play them. It’s different. In a weird way, it’s like playing Oregon. There are not a lot of plays being run, but they’re so good at it.”
The Yellow Jackets have to prepare for a USC offense that features two of the best receivers in the nation in Marquise Lee and junior Robert Woods.
“The two wide receivers are so talented,” Johnson said. “They’ve got a good offensive line, an adequate running game. They’re just very talented all up and down at every position.”