Originally created 02/11/00

Penn State-Southern Cal to meet in Kickoff Classic



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It didn't take the Kickoff Classic long to get over losing Michigan.

Less than 24 hours after the Wolverines backed out of the game because of a problem finding an opponent, the Kickoff Classic revised the game plan and announced that Penn State and Southern California would meet in the traditional opener to the college football season.

Bob Vecchione, the associate executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors, which runs the game, said the organization never stopped working on the matchup even after Michigan tenatively agreed to play in the Aug. 27 game at Giants Stadium.

"You never have a game until two teams agree to play," he said. "So while we talked to Michigan, we also talked to Penn State and Virginia Tech. In the end, Penn State stepped up and said they were willing to play and Southern California stepped up and said they wanted to play."

The result is the first rematch in the 18-year history of the game. The teams also met in 1996 with Penn State winning 24-7.

Michigan's decision not to play in the game came just days after athletic director Tom Goss announced his resignation. His 2´-year stay was marked by a budget deficit, a stadium controversy and the suspension of the basketball team's leading scorer.

Penn State is coming off a 10-3 season and a convincing 24-0 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas A&M. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 11 after a year in which they climbed as high as No. 2 before suffering three losses by a total of a dozen points in November.

Southern California, which was 6-6, finished strong last season by winning its last three games. It snapped an eight-game losing streak to cross-town rival UCLA and defeated No. 25 Louisiana Tech. The Trojans' promising 2-0 start fizzled when starting quarterback Carson Palmer went out with a broken collarbone.

"USC will be a tough assignment to open the season and we expect to have our hands full," coach Joe Paterno said in a statement.

Penn State is expected to return nine starters, seven on offense, including two from New Jersey -- quarterback Rashard Casey of Hoboken, who led the Big Ten in passing efficiency (153.94), and halfback Eric McCoo of Red Bank, who led the team in rushing with 739 yards.

USC coach Paul Hackett was looking forward to Southern California's third appearance in the Kickoff Classic.

"What a great way for Trojan football to start the new millennium," he said. "It will be a thrill for our players, coaches and fans to travel to Giants Stadium and showcase USC football to the East Coast."

Southern California returns 15 starters from 1999, including 10 on defense (all but the strong safety) and five on offense, plus the punter and kicker. The offense will be led by Palmer, a sophomore who is already 15th on USC's career passing list.

This will be a record fourth Kickoff Classic appearance for Penn State.

Besides USC, Penn State lost to Nebraska 44-6 in the inaugural game and defeated defending national champion Georgia Tech 34-22 in 1991. USC defeated Syracuse 34-16 in the 1990 game.

Penn State leads the overall series, which dates to the 1923 Rose Bowl, 4-3.

Last year, Miami defeated Ohio State 23-12 in Kickoff Classic XVII.

Penn State and USC will each receive a minimum guaranteed payout of $650,000.