The No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (9-3, 6-2) will face a talented foe in the USC Trojans (8-5, 6-3) on Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for the 2015 Holiday Bowl.
To help us break down USC's year and what to expect from the Trojans, B5Q welcomed Julian Lopez, editor of SB Nation site Conquest Chronicles, in the first of our two-part Q&A.
Going into the season, what were the expectations for 2015, and what's been the general feeling from fans during USC's 8-5 season?
Expectations were that the Trojans were not only going to compete for the Pac-12 Title but also the CFP title. Before the season, I had them in the CFP (not because I am biased, but I thought this team was deep and was one of the better teams in the country.) After the Steve Sarkisian turmoil, USC lost to Notre Dame and then got hot, winning their next four games including a 42-24 victory over then No. 3 Utah. Despite all the turmoil in LA, USC won the Pac-12 South and ended their losing streak against UCLA. I think the general feeling from fans is disappointment because they knew what this team was capable of however the Trojans didnt give up on the season after Sarkisian left and they bounced back and won the division. Fans are pleased with Clay Helton being given the permanent job.
Looking at the offense, Cody Kessler and Juju Smith-Schuster stand out in the passing game. How have both of their seasons gone, and are their other options in the passing game the Badgers will need to keep watch on?
Compared to last season, this year was somewhat a disappointment for Cody Kessler but he still managed to complete 67.6% of his passes and threw for over 3,300 yards and 28 touchdowns. A big reason why Kessler's season was a little disappointing is that he relied so much on Juju Smith-Schuster and the occasional games when Smith-Schuster struggled, Kessler couldn't find another weapon. Smith-Schuster took a huge step in 2015 and is now one of the best receivers in the nation, albeit he is only a sophomore. He had 85 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. The one astonishing part to his season is that he had a broken hand yet he played in every game. There are other options in the receiving game (Steven Mitchell Jr., Darreus Rogers come to mind) but both have battled injuries in 2015.
Two running backs appear to be knocking on the door of 1,000 yards. What should Badgers fans know about Justin Davis and Ronald Jones?
USC has a dynamic duo in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. Davis is more of an all-purpose back (power and speed) while Jones is an elusive back. I think Jones is the fastest running back USC has had since Reggie Bush. Tre Madden battled multiple injuries and will not play in the Holiday Bowl. He was the short yardage back. USC will use both Davis and Jones a lot, especially if the Badgers shut down the Trojans passing attack.
Su'a Cravens is a standout outside linebacker for USC's defense. What has Cravens done for the USC defense, and who should the Badgers look out for on that side of the ball?
Su'a Cravens has done everything for the Trojans. He is tied for the team lead in tackles and sacks and leads the team in tackles for a loss. Cravens played his first year as a linebacker after starting his career as a safety and should be a late first round pick in the NFL Draft. I would look out for the defensive lineman (Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon, and Antwaun Woods among others) because if USC is able to shut down the Wisconsin rushing offense, I think the Trojans would win handily.