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Wisconsin vs. USC: Trojans to provide test for Badgers in 2015 Holiday Bowl

For the first time since the greatest game in the pre-Barry Alvarez era of Badger football, the Badgers take on USC in a bowl game.

[Updated 2:53 p.m. CT -- Ed. Note -- the third paragraph has been modified. Wisconsin actually played USC in 1965 and 1966. Apologies for the discrepancy.]

It says something about what happened to the Badgers before Barry Alvarez came around when the greatest football game they played ended up as a loss.

On Jan. 1, 1963, the Badgers were down 42-14 early in the fourth quarter in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up with the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl. Then, quarterback Ron Vander Kelen helped Wisconsin score 23 unanswered points in the final frame. They fell short in the 42-37 loss, but in being noble with falling short, the Badgers had a rare banner year in football.

The Badgers take on USC on Dec. 30. The 2015 Holiday Bowl has nowhere near the stakes, but USC does provide an interesting challenge that has a potential for the Badgers to end the year the way they started it.

Cody Kessler fell off from his 2014 performance, but he's still a quality passer

It's not hard to say that when you have a junior year with a 39-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, especially when he's completed 67.6 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2015.

Sure, he's missing now NFL wide out Nelson Agholor, and especially the safety valve that Javorius Allen provided -- but sophomore Juju Smith-Schuster stepped up into the primary WR1 role nicely. He's going into the game with a line of 85 receptions, 1389 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Beyond Smith-Schuster, the Trojans don't have a single wide receiver that would be a consistent threat, but they have nine other receivers that have double digit receptions.

The upside is, the Badgers can get to Kessler on the blitz. USC currently sits 94th in terms of sacks allowed with 35 on the season. 17 of them came in the Trojans' five losses.

Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis are good backs

Redshirt senior running back Tre Madden has always been a little injury prone, so USC's running game fell into a time share between Davis, a junior, and Jones II, a true freshman. Though neither has rushed for 1,000 yards yet on the season, Jones II is only 60 yards away from the milestone and Davis is 125. Though not surprisingly, they do tend to struggle in the teeth of the stronger rush defenses in college football. They played three top 25 rush defenses on the season, and averaged 3.29 yards per carry against them.

Su'a Cravens is the closest thing to a star on the defense

While statistically, the Trojans don't really dominate on defense, there are two interesting things Badger fans have to be on the lookout for. The first is Cravens, an active outside linebacker. The 6'1, 225-pound junior currently leads the Trojans in tackles for loss (14.5), he's tied for the lead in terms of sacks (5.5) and tackles (78). Oh, and he's tied for second in terms of interceptions (2) and pass breakups (6). He's highly skilled and containing him will go a long way for the Badgers getting the win.

The Trojans gambled in pass defense

The Trojans are currently one of the top 10 teams in terms of generating sacks with 37, and interestingly, they don't have a truly dominant pass rusher that gets to the quarterback. Freshman Porter Gustin is tied with Cravens at 5.5 sacks. It's a matter of pressure with the defense, and if they don't get to the quarterback, there's definitely purchase to be had through the air. USC finished the regular season 98th in yards per game, and 93rd in yards per attempt.

There could be a good final chapter for redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave, but with defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and other assistants now fired, it's going to be interesting to see what happens when the Badgers and Trojans meet.