With 363 days left in 2017, it will be hard to surpass the 103rd edition of the Rose Bowl for the best game of the year.
In a game that had a little bit of everything except maybe defense, the USC Trojans rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to defeat Penn State, 52-49, on a last-second field goal by Matt Boermeester.
USC got off to a fast start, intercepting Trace McSorley’s first two passes on the way to a 13-0 first quarter lead. Penn State gained control in the second quarter, rallying to trail at halftime, 27-21 and then scoring three touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half to take a 42-27 lead.
The sagging shoulders were visible on the Trojans at that moment and it seemed like the game had gotten away from the Trojans, but they fought back to within 49-35 entering the fourth quarter and then shut down the Nittany Lions while rallying for the victory.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold led the way for the Trojans, entering the Rose Bowl record book with five touchdown passes and 473 yards of total offense. He also entered the race for the Heisman Trophy next year.
But Darnold had help.
While Penn State bottled up the USC running game most of the game, Darnold was able to find receivers Deontay Burnett and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Burnett, a backup at the start of the year, caught 13 passes in the game for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
His 27-yard touchdown pass with 39 second left tied the score at 49 and USC intercepted McSorley two plays later to set up Boermeester’s winning field goal.
Smith-Schuster, playing perhaps his final game as a Trojan, caught seven passes for 133 yards and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Darnold in the third quarter that stopped the bleeding after the Penn State blitz at the start of the third quarter.
The Nittany Lions had stars of their own.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin caught nine passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, the second one coming on a 72-yard catch and run on the Nittany Lions’ second play of the second half.
The first play was a 79-touchdown run by Saquon Barkley who broke six or seven tackles and then outran the rest of the Trojans.
One play after Godwin’s touchdown Darnold threw an interception that was returned to the Trojans 3-yard line. McSorley scored on the next play. Four minutes and 34 seconds into the third quarter Penn State had scored 21 points on three plays from scrimmage.
But USC battled back, even after losing all-American defensive back Adoreé Jackson to an ankle injury in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, running back Ronald Jones II scored from three yards out with more than eight minutes to play. With the pressure on late, Darnold led the Trojans 80 yards in three plays with Burnett changing his route at the snap to a post pattern and breaking free for an easy score.
Penn State could have played for overtime but chose to throw the ball against a USC secondary playing deep. On the second play, safety Leon McQuay atoned for dropping a sure interception in the play before by picking off a McSorley pass and returning it into field goal range. After two snaps to get the ball lined up, Boermeester kicked himself into Rose Bowl legend status.
The game was the highest scoring in Rose Bowl history at 101 points. Penn State scored the most points for a losing team.
Both Darnold and McSorley accounted for five touchdowns, McSorley throwing four touchdown passes and running for a fifth.
Burnett’s three touchdown passes caught tied a Rose Bowl record set by Brandon Edwards.
Yes, that will be a hard game to top in 2017.
DISMAL ENDING: While USC had something to celebrate as the new year began, the only thing the Rams had to celebrate was the end of a nightmare season.
The 44-6 beatdown administered by the Arizona Cardinals was worse than the 28-0 beatdown the 49ers game the Rams in the season opener.
The Rams now enter the offseason searching for a new direction. Owner Stan Kroenke has several decisions to make. Does he hire a strong general manager to pick his new coach or does he go for a coach first and fill in the other positions later?
Rams fans keep mentioning Jon Gruden as their top choice but Gruden isn’t leaving television unless he has total control of the football operations. Will Kroenke give him that?
Whoever Kroenke eventually hires as coach had better be able to coach quarterbacks. The Rams invested too much in Jared Goff not to see if they can get the most out of that draft pick.
The Rams have a solid defense, but they need help on the offensive line. Todd Gurley has too much talent to not rush for 1,000 a year.
Kroenke also needs to understand that Los Angeles isn’t like St. Louis. There are too many other things to do here in the fall and winter than sit in a rundown old stadium and watch a horrible football team.
He will be hard-pressed to sell 80,000 season seats again. Too many people were trying to give them away the last two weeks of the season.
He doesn’t want to lose his fan base two years before the new Inglewood stadium is built.
CHARGERS ON THE CLOCK: The San Diego Chargers also have some decisions to make and their first one has to made in 10 days.
On Jan. 15, the Chargers have to notify the National Football league whether they intend to use the option the league gave them last year to join the Rams in the new Inglewood stadium in 2019.
If the Chargers turn down the option, they are stuck in San Diego for the foreseeable future. And since the city of San Diego is in no hurry to help the Chargers replace or renovate their current stadium, that is a place where he Chargers don’t want to be.
The Chargers also could exercise their option and choose to stay in San Diego for the next two years while the Inglewood facility is being completed. Or they could exercise the option and decide to play somewhere else for the next two years.
USC is happy to share the Coliseum with the Rams, but I don’t think the Trojans want to share the stadium with two NFL teams.
That means the Chargers would have to find other arrangements. One being tossed around is playing home games at the StubHub Center in Carson. With a seating capacity of only 27,000, StubHub is small by NFL standards, but at least the Chargers wouldn’t have to worry about large areas of empty seats every week.
The Rose Bowl and Dodger Stadium are other options, along with Angel Stadium in Anaheim. The Chargers last week announced that have leased land in Costa Mesa as a possible site for team headquarters should they move north.
The Spanos family would rather stay in San Diego, but they don’t want to build a new stadium next to their old stadium, which is about all the options they have left down there.
If the Chargers don’t exercise their option to move by the Jan. 15 deadline, the Oakland Raiders have a one-year option to join the Rams here.
Isn’t relocation fun the way the NFL plays it?