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Not in the preseason forecast: Trojans heading to the Sun Bowl

El Paso isn't the destination USC had in mind after opening the season ranked No. 1. The 7-5 Trojans will face Georgia Tech in a lower-tier bowl they haven't played in since 1998.

December 02, 2012|By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times
  • Marqise Lee and USC take on Georgia Tech on Dec. 31.
Marqise Lee and USC take on Georgia Tech on Dec. 31. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

At a USC game last month, Hyundai Sun Bowl officials distributed to the media a brochure that featured the headline: "AN EVENT LIKE NO OTHER."

After losing four of their last five games, the Trojans will get a firsthand look.

USC will play Georgia Tech in the 79th Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, it was announced Sunday.

It's not the destination USC had in mind after opening the season ranked No. 1 in several polls and with designs on playing in South Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

A 7-5 finish sends the Trojans instead to a lower-tier bowl they have not played in since 1998, when they were held to minus-23 yards rushing in a 28-19 loss to Texas Christian.

During a teleconference with reporters, Coach Lane Kiffin sounded as if he was trying hard to sound enthusiastic.

He repeatedly said he and his players were excited about the postseason opportunity, especially after NCAA sanctions prevented them from participating in bowl games the last two seasons.

"They have a chance to do that as opposed to sitting at home," he said of his players, "so I think they're very excited for it."

The Trojans will practice 13 to 15 times, starting Wednesday. Kiffin said he expects quarterback Matt Barkley to play after sitting out against Notre Dame because of a shoulder injury.

Georgia Tech finished 6-7 overall after Saturday's 21-15 loss to No. 21 Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Despite its losing record, Georgia Tech last week received a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game.

This is the second consecutive Sun Bowl appearance for the Yellow Jackets, who lost last year to Utah, 30-27, in overtime.

Under fifth-year Coach Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense, averaging 312.6 yards a game with its triple-option attack.

Johnson welcomed the opportunity to return to El Paso and said it would be a "huge challenge" to play the Trojans.

"I don't think you're going to completely shut them down," he said. "Nobody has."

USC has played Georgia Tech four times. The most recent game was in 1973, when the top-ranked Trojans won, 23-6, at Atlanta.

The Sun Bowl will mark the final game for Monte Kiffin, the Trojans' assistant head coach for defense. USC announced last week that Kiffin, 72, would resign effective after the game to pursue NFL opportunities.

Monte Kiffin told The Times that neither Lane Kiffin nor USC officials pressured him to step down.

"It was not forced upon me or anything like that," he said.

Lane Kiffin said that players were "a little bit sad" about his father's impending departure.

"They respect him for his work ethic and what he's done and how much energy he tried to put in to make them better," he said.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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