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Holiday Bowl Preview: Badgers vs. Trojans

Wisconsin Badgers football quarterback Joel Stave watches the Badgers basketball team play the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers on Dec. 9 at the Kohl Center. UW-Milwaukee defeated Wisconsin 68-67. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Holiday Bowl Storylines

1. One month after Clay Helton was hired as the permanent head coach at USC, he’ll experience his first bowl game when the Trojans meet Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 30.

Helton was hired Nov. 30, two days after USC beat rival UCLA to advance to the Pac-12 championship game, but the Trojans lost to Stanford and ended up in San Diego rather than at the coveted Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Helton fired several of his assistants in the week following his hiring, which could leave the Trojans vulnerable in certain areas.

2. If the Trojans hope to extend their all-time record to 7-0 against Wisconsin, they’ll need to find a way to protect quarterback Cody Kessler.

USC has allowed 35 sacks this season, which is tied for eighth-most in the Pac-12, and the Badgers have a premier pass rusher in outside linebacker Joe Schobert. He has produced 18.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and forced five fumbles, which ties the single-season program record; he could turn it into a long night for Kessler.

3. Wisconsin hasn’t defeated a team with a winning record this season, losing a pair of nail-biters to Iowa and Northwestern, the teams that finished ahead of the Badgers in the West Division of the Big Ten.

If they hope to get their first win against a team with a winning record, they’ll likely need another big game from running back Dare Ogunbowale, who carried the ball 33 times in the regular-season finale against Minnesota, totaling a career-high 155 yards and a touchdown.

There’s also a possibility that injury-plagued but talented running back Corey Clement could be available, though he wasn’t practicing with the team earlier in the month, instead working with the strength and conditioning staff.


TV: 9:30 p.m., ESPN. LINE: USC -3.

About USC (8-5, 6-3 Pac-12)

Adoree Jackson was voted the most valuable player for the Trojans this season, contributing as a wide receiver, defensive back and punt returner, but the real game-changer is teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster, the talented wide receiver who has caught 85 passes for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Smith-Schuster, Jackson and the other receivers will be up against a Wisconsin pass defense that has allowed six touchdown passes all season. Steven Mitchell Jr. could become a prime target in this game, as he specializes in the shorter routes that might come in handy for Kessler.

About Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten)

Badgers quarterback Joel Stave will look to punctuate his college career on a high note, something he failed to accomplish in his Big Ten finale.

He threw for just 79 yards in the 31-21 victory against Minnesota with no touchdown passes and an interception, giving him six picks in the last four games.

Stave is expected to have one of his favorite targets back as second-leading receiver Robert Wheelwright has been practicing after missing the final four games with a broken fibula.

Bowl history

Wisconsin is 12-14 in bowl games, snapping a four-game losing skid in bowl games with a 34-31 triumph over Auburn in the 2015 Outback Bowl in Florida. USC has won all six meetings against the Badgers.

PREDICTION: USC 24, Wisconsin 21.