Rose Bowl hosts similarly tough No. 7 Utah, No. 9 Penn State
Rose Bowl: No. 7 Utah (10-3, No. 8 CFP) vs. No. 9 Penn State (10-2, No. 11 CFP), Jan 2. 17, 5 p.m. Eastern (ESPN)
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK COLLEGE LINE: Utah by 1 1/2.
Series record: First meeting.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The Utes won the Pac-12 for the second straight season and can now get a measure of redemption after losing 48-45 to Ohio State in their Rose Bowl debut last year. The Nittany Lions, returning to Pasadena for the first time since a memorable last-second defeat to Southern California in 2017, are out to show they can defeat a heavyweight opponent after losing to Big Ten powers Michigan and the Buckeyes. Conference bragging rights between the West Coast and Midwest leagues take on added significance as this is likely to be the last traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup in The Granddaddy of Them All, with the Rose Bowl hosting a College Football Playoff semifinal next season and the expanded 12-team playoff set to debut in 2024.
Penn State QB Sean Clifford vs. Utah S R.J. Hubert. The sixth-year senior Clifford will have to be at his best after struggling in the Nittany Lions’ two defeats, completing 7 of 19 passes for 120 yards against the Wolverines and being picked off three times by Ohio State. Hubert and Cole Bishop anchored arguably the Pac-12’s premier safety tandem and performed well against the conference’s strong collection of quarterbacks. Second on the team with 75 tackles, Hubert had two forced fumbles and three interceptions, including a critical pick of Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams in the Pac-12 title game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Utah: WR DeVaughn Vele will be the top option for QB Cameron Rising after TE Dalton Kincaid decided not to play in the Rose Bowl. Vele was second on the team in receptions (50), yards receiving (595) and touchdown catches (5). He should have opportunities to make plays against a Penn State secondary that won’t have CB Joey Porter Jr., who opted out to begin NFL Draft preparations.
Penn State: RB Nicholas Singleton needs 59 yards rushing to reach 1,000 in his impressive debut season. The Big Ten freshman of the year seemed to hit a wall in October before rebounding to average 6.3 yards per carry over the past four games. Utah is allowing 3.8 yards per rush, but Florida and UCLA had success keeping the ball on the ground.
FACTS & FIGURES
The Nittany Lions are playing in the Rose Bowl for the fifth time. Their first appearance came in 1923, and their lone win was a 38-20 triumph over Oregon in 1995. ... Utes coach Kyle Whittingham is 11-4 in bowl games. However, he has dropped his past three postseason contests, with the Utes’ typically stout defense allowing 39 points per game in those defeats. ... Both offenses have had tremendous success featuring the tight end. Utah’s group has accounted for an FBS-best 101 catches, 1,496 yards and 16 touchdown receptions. Penn State ranks second nationally with 13 combined scoring grabs from four different tight ends. ... Utah had the most productive pass rush in the Pac-12 and was the only team in the conference to see three different defenders notch five sacks. DE Gabe Reid led the team with 5 1/2, and Florida transfer LB Mohamoud Diabate and DE Van Fillinger each had five. ... Singleton and Kaytron Allen are the first freshman teammates in Big Ten history to each run for at least 700 yards. Allen has 844 yards rushing with nine touchdowns. ... Utah All-America CB Clark Phillips III will not play after declaring for the NFL Draft. Phillips led the Pac-12 with six interceptions, which was tied for third nationally. ... Clifford holds Penn State career records in touchdown passes (84), yards passing (10,382), completions (817) and completion percentage (61.2%). He needs 141 yards to pass Trace McSorley (11,596) in total offense. ... Utah RB Micah Bernard had to play defense against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl because of injuries in the secondary and ended up leading the team with 10 tackles. Back at his regular position this season, he is second on the team with 474 yards rushing.
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