Penn State: 6-2, 235-pound Daryll Clark at times can still look like a fullback impersonating a quarterback, but it's hard to argue with the numbers he has put up in his first season as a starter. He has accounted for 26 touchdowns overall, 17 coming through the air (with only four interceptions) and nine more on the ground.

USC: At 6-3 and 225 pounds, junior Mark Sanchez has the size, poise and arm of a future NFL star. He's 13-2 as a starter, going 2-1 as a fill-in for the injured John David Booty last season. Accurate (64.4 completion percentage), unflappable in the pocket and surrounded by talented skill-position helpers, he has thrown at least one TD pass in each game he has started.

Advantage: USC


Penn State: Sophomore Evan Royster rushed for 1,202 yards, (6.5 yards per carry) and scored 12 touchdowns. Big and sturdy at 6-1, 211 pounds to pound between the tackles, and elusive enough to break the occasional long-gainer. Backup Stephfon Green, a redshirt freshman who gained 521 yards on 95 carries and scored four TDs, will get his touches.

USC: The Trojans list Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable as starters, although only one gets to be on the field for the first snap. Johnson is the biggest and busiest with 123 carries for 642 yards and nine touchdowns, but keep an eye on McKnight, who leads the team with 646 yards and a 7.7-yard average.

Advantage: USC


Penn State: Last go-round for seniors Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, who have combined for 121 catches, 1,769 and 15 touchdowns this season. "They're fast, they run precise routes and their timing is excellent," USC safety Taylor Mays said of the Lions' veteran wideouts.

USC: Look for 6-5, 220-pound senior wide receiver Patrick Turner to be Sanchez' preferred target on fade routes in the red zone, where he routinely outjumped smaller defenders en route to a team-high 10 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Damian Williams, a transfer from Arkansas, had a team-high 48 receptions and eight TDs.

Advantage: Even


Penn State: Rimington Award-winning center A.Q. Shipley, left tackle Gerald Cadogan and left guard Rich Ohrnberger are seniors who have started every game this season and are the nucleus of the Lions' best O-line in more than a decade.

USC: Sometimes he's at left guard, sometimes at center, but undersized Jeff Byers - if a 6-4, 285-pounder can be regarded as undersized - is an All-America who helps keep Sanchez' jersey clean as well as opening running lane for McKnight, Johnson and Gable. Center Kristofer O'Dowd is no slouch, either.

Advantage: Penn State



Penn State: Left end Aaron Maybin gets the sacks (a team-high 12) and the recognition (first-team Associated Press All-America), but left tackle Jared Odrick and right end Josh Gaines do the dirty work, tying up blockers, stuffing the run and allowing Maybin and another excellent pass rusher off the edge, Maurice Evans, to harass the quarterback.

USC: Tackle Fili Moala collapsed pockets to the tune of 4.5 sacks and frequently commands double-team blocks. Clay Matthews, son of former USC All-America linebacker Clay Matthews Sr., is a stand-up end who teamed with Kyle Moore for nine sacks. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt values quickness over heft, and this group is as fast off the ball as any in college football.

Advantage: Penn State


Penn State: Redshirt sophomore Navorro Bowman didn't make his first career start until the fourth game of the season, against Temple, but once in the lineup he became a fixture, leading the team with 98 tackles. Middle linebacker Josh Hull and the other outside 'backer, Tyrell Sales, are steady if unspectacular.

USC: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga became the Trojans' first-ever winner of the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player, and was a finalist for the Lombardi, Butkus and Nagurski Awards. He has to be accounted for on every play. On a par with the heat-seeking Samoan missile is fellow All-America Brian Cushing.

Advantage: USC


Penn State: Cornerbacks Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis and safeties Anthony Scirrotto and Mark Rubin are all seniors who seldom get caught out of position. When the Nits go to their nickel and dime packages, A.J. Wallace and Drew Astorino play nearly as much as the regulars and also are fundamentally sound.

USC: Free safety Taylor Mays is going to be an All-Pro someday; as it is, he's a consensus All-America. The Trojans give up only 122.8 passing yards per game, tops nationally, but could be a bit more vulnerable if All-Pac 10 strong safety Kevin Ellison as expected sits out the Rose Bowl with a stiff shoulder.

Advantage: Penn State


Penn State: Senior placekicker Kevin Kelly nailed 19 of 23 field goals to run his career total to 77 of 106. Punter Jeremy Boone finished second in the Big Ten with a 42.5-yard average. Derrick Williams can instantly change a game's momentum. He ran back two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns this season, boosting his total to five, most among PSU players in the Joe Paterno era.

USC: David Buehler was first team All-Pac 10 as the placekicker, but he was only 8 of 12 on field goals because the Trojans seldom had to settle for three points. Buehler's strength is his ability to produce touchbacks on kickoffs, or to pin opponents inside their 20-yard line.

Advantage: Penn State


1. More fundamental football, fewer gadget plays by Penn State. The Nittany Lions' game plan usually calls for a bit of trickery - reverses, double-reverses, flanker option passes - but even if you get USC to initially bite on that sort of thing, the Trojans have athletes with the sort of speed to recover quickly and blow the play up.

2. Sacks will be at a premium. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez isn't likely to take off running, by design or otherwise, but he's mobile enough to buy time by stepping up or back in the pocket, or side to side.

3. Special teams could prove especially important. All other things being equal, a big special-teams play - a long return, a blocked field goal, a punt being downed inside the 5-yard line - can shift momentum in a hurry.


The forecast for Pasadena on Thursday is sunny with a high of 72 degrees.


USC 24, Penn State 17