Quarterback Trace McSorley has provided a big lift for the Nittany Lions in 2016 on the ground and through the air. Getty

After years of crippling sanctions, both the No. 9 USC Trojans (9-3) and the No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-3) have finally found redemption as they get set to meet on Monday in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It's been a long and tiresome journey for two storied programs with a lot in common this season.

The Trojans are back in a major bowl game after NCAA sanctions denied them a chance in 2010 and 2011, and after a slower than expected return to their elite form. For a school that has advanced to the Rose Bowl 34 times, USC managed just a trip to the Sun Bowl in 2012, followed by the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013, and then two consecutive trips to the Holiday Bowl.

The Nittany Lions endured two years of bowl ineligibility in 2012 and 2013 and then reached the Pinstripes Bowl and the Taxslayer Bowl the next two seasons. For a program that routinely reached top bowl games in the Joe Paterno era, the recent bowl invitations were weak consolation prizes.

But both programs are back on track and reaching the Rose Bowl should be a particularly gratifying experience for the two head coaches. Former offensive coordinator Clay Helton was hired to oversee one of the proudest football schools in the nation this year after some forgettable seasons under two other former USC offensive coordinators-turned coaches Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, and has resuscitated a program that had not reached a major bowl game since USC defeated Penn State in 2009. The mild-mannered Helton got off to a poor start in 2016 but USC bounced back from a 1-3 record to win eight consecutive games including victories over rivals UCLA and Notre Dame and then-No. 21 Colorado and No. 4 Washington.

James Franklin took over in Happy Valley in 2014 season and the Nittany Lions managed to finish with consecutive 7-6 records in his first two seasons. The mediocre results meant Franklin entered the 2016 season on the hot seat, but the Nittany Lions responded to the challenge after some early setbacks. Like USC, Penn State looked uninspired to start the season, losing two of their first four games, but then won nine consecutive games, including victories over then-No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game.

The similarities don't stop there. Both USC and Penn State boast players that probably deserved to have been in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley gave opposing defenses fits, rushing for 16 touchdowns and 1,302 yards while racking up 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore averaged 8.3 yards per carry against Ohio State and had two games of over 200 rushing yards.

The Trojans have one of the most explosive weapons in the nation. Star cornerback Adoree' Jackson continued to prove he's a "do-everything player." The junior has been excellent covering the top receivers in the Pac-12 and has two touchdowns on punt returns and two touchdowns on kick returns. Jackson has averaged 30.5 yards per kick return and 15.9 yards per punt return, while also intermittently featuring in the offense at wide receiver.

Both schools also boast revelations at quarterback. After a somewhat slow start, Penn State's redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley has rushed for six touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception in three straight games. McSorley also stepped up when it counted, throwing for four touchdowns and 376 yards against Wisconsin. He enters the Rose Bowl with 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

USC dual threat Sam Darnold replaced Max Browne early in the season and the results have been more than favorable. The athletic redshirt freshman combines excellent scrambling skills to go along with precise passing to lead a confident and surging Trojan offense. Darnold looked his best against Colorado, passing for 358 yards and rushing for 22 yards in the Trojans' first big win of the season. He finished the season with 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

Penn State has a solid defense that is capable of containing Darnold, star wide out JuJu Smith-Schuster and elusive rusher Ronald Jones II with a unit that ranks 26th against the pass and 49th against the run. But Franklin will be without sophomore linebacker Manny Bowen, who has been suspended for violating team rules. The Nittany Lions still have Jason Cabinda, one of the best linebackers in the nation.

The Trojans, meanwhile, have one of the most athletic defenses in the nation, and there is more to the unit than just Jackson. Senior defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, linebackers Cameron Smith and Michael Hutchings, and defensive backs Iman Marshall and Chris Hawkins have shined for a squad that has prevented seven opponents from scoring more than 20 points.

Line: USC favored by 7 points.

Over/Under: 60 points

Prediction: This should be a highly entertaining game, as both teams began playing at their best when it matters most. The unlikely unsung heroes on Monday might be the USC offensive line. The Trojans will likely run the ball in the first half with Jones and Justin Davis finding big holes for a slow but steady attack. But the Nittany Lions find ways to complicate things, and there is no discounting how they managed to pull off wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin. McSorley has two excellent targets in Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki, and he will likely look to them if the Trojans contain Barkley. Penn State can secure a win if they avoid significant penalties, maintain possession and tire the Trojans defense.

Expect a tight game with USC doing just enough to pull off a close win.

Predicted Score: USC over Penn State, 31-27