In his first season as the Wisconsin Badgers (9-3) head coach, Paul Chryst can take solace in the fact that he only lost to two ranked squads, and two of them, Alabama and Iowa, either made or were down-to-the-wire contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
And now Chyrst can wrap up his inaugural season in Madison by helping the Badgers claim their first ever victory over the No. 25 USC Trojans (8-5) in Wednesday night’s Holiday Bowl from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Between 1953 and 1966, the Trojans and Badgers met six times with the former taking every contest by an averaging of 14.3 points and only one, the 1963 Rose Bowl, was decided by less than a touchdown.
Odds makers have pegged the latest matchup to be much closer this go-round, with USC only a 3.5-point, largely due to Wisconsin’s defensive dominance this season.
Leading the nation with a mere 13.1 points allowed per game, the Badgers held opponents under 270 total yards and 97.9 rushing yards a contest. Both of those numbers led the Big Ten, while Wisconsin allowed just six passing touchdowns all season and picked off quarterbacks 11 times.
Linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert deserve much of the credit for leading the Badgers bulwark of a defense, combining for 17.5 of the team’s 26.0 total sacks, 21 quarterback hits, and 32.5 tackles-for-a-loss. However, senior safety and former quarterback Tanner McEvoy could be the key to stopping the Trojans vaunted attack.
USC finished ranked No. 31 in the country with 35.1 points per game behind senior quarterback Cody Kessler’s 3,315 passing yards and 28 touchdowns to just six interceptions for a 154.3 passer rating.
The NFL-bound Kessler particularly favored receiver JuJu Smith for 85 receptions, 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns, as the Trojans pulled off solid victories over then-No. 3 Utah and No. 22 UCLA while head coach Clay Helton was named full-time coach following Steve Sarkisian’s dismissal and subsequent lawsuit filing.
Nevertheless, Kessler looked impressive torching Pac-12 defenses this year, but none had the 6-foot-6 McEvoy or his experience under center. Last year McEvoy passed for 709 yards and five scores in 14 games and he helped put the Badgers in contention for a CFP spot before the Big Ten title game loss to Ohio State. He also completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,301 yards and 29 touchdowns with Arizona Western back in 2012.
McEvoy shifted back to the secondary this season and was one of the best defensive backs in the conference. He total six interceptions and six more pass break-ups, while helping Biegel and Schobert in the pass rush with a sack and 2.0 tackles-for-a-loss.
Betting Odds: USC -3.5
Over/Under: 50.5 points
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN