The Trojans (7-5), who started the season ranked No. 1, accepted a bid Sunday to the Dec. 31 game in El Paso, Texas. Coach Lane Kiffin said he expects his star quarterback to be able to play by then after missing the season finale against top-ranked Notre Dame with a sprained shoulder.
“He hasn’t gone to a bowl game the last couple years, so it’s a chance to go to one and finish off strong for him and for the senior class,” Kiffin said. “It’s a great opportunity for us.”
USC hasn’t been able to play in a bowl game the past two seasons because of NCAA sanctions resulting from improper benefits received by former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
“Especially after two years of sitting at home and not being able to go to a bowl game, we’re excited,” Kiffin said. “We’re excited about a very good bowl and a great matchup, and we’re ready to go to work.”
Georgia Tech will be playing in the Sun Bowl for the second straight year. The Yellow Jackets squandered a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead in an overtime loss to Utah in last year’s game. They also could have won the game on a field goal at the end of regulation, but missed for the third time in the game.
“Hopefully we’ll have a chance to come back and redeem ourselves,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said.
The Yellow Jackets needed a waiver from the NCAA to play in the postseason because they finished with a 6-7 record following a loss in the ACC championship game. The conference’s rules prevented Georgia Tech from falling to a lesser bowl.
“We knew that the championship runner-up could not go past the Sun Bowl, and that was pretty much it,” Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas said. “I don’t think we ever had a discussion about moving down at all.”
“We’re very pleased to have them back,” he added.
Georgia Tech’s job this time will be to spoil Barkley’s going-away party. It will also be Kiffin’s last game coaching with his father, Monte, who resigned as defensive coordinator effective after the bowl.
“There’s no question they’ve got some great players, but we’ll have gone through a span here where they’ll be the third team in a row we’ve played that was ranked in the top five at one point or another,” Johnson said.
“We’ve gone Georgia, Florida State and now Southern Cal. So, that’s three programs in a row with pretty good tradition and pretty good history,” he added.
The teams haven’t met since 1973. The Trojans have won two of the previous three meetings.
Georgia Tech will be playing in a bowl for a 15th straight year, tied for the fourth-longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but the last seven have been losses.
USC has 32 bowl victories, the second-most in the country behind Alabama.
“It’s great, first off, just to get more practices for our young players, for our future, to have these practices that we’ve not had over the last two years,” Kiffin said. “We’re very excited. It’s very big for us.”