Don't pack your bags, USC fans. Just fill up your gas tank, load your car and set up your tailgate. USC is staying home and headed to the 103rd edition of the Rose Bowl Game.
On January 2, USC will line up for the program's 34th appearance in the game–the most of any team. Opposite them will be Penn State, who mirrors USC's path to this improbable game, and is coming off a Big Ten Championship victory.
The first hurdle for the Trojans to take a trip to Pasadena came early Sunday morning, when the Top 4 in the College Football Playoff was announced. Conference foe Washington remained at No. 4 and in the playoff over the competing Big Ten duo of Penn State and Michigan, who presented impressive resumes but could not overcome their two-loss records.
Washington beat Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship by a score of 41-10 Friday, and their inclusion in the final four kept them out of the Rose Bowl, leaving a spot open for a second Pac-12 team.
USC had provided Washington with their only loss of the season, a result that playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt called a "loss to a Top 10 team." Combined with calling their win over Colorado, a victory over a team the committee "had in [their] Top 10" the announcement later on in the morning that USC would be in the Rose Bowl was merely a formality.
USC finished the season ranked No. 9 in the college football playoff rankings, one spot ahead of Colorado. They were No. 9 in the AP Top 25 Poll and No. 9 in the Coaches Poll. Their 9-3 record includes wins over Colorado and Washington and losses to three Top 20 teams in Alabama, Stanford and Utah.
"It is a great reward for our football team after a very strong finish to the 2016 season," head coach Clay Helton said in a press release.
The matchup with Penn State pits USC against a team whose narrative follows a similar path, with both teams wishing they could forget September before tallying nine and eight-game winning streaks, respectively.
Penn State, seemingly forgotten by the end of that fall month, also featured a coach on the hot seat in James Franklin. Much like people spoke of Helton's long-term status as head coach after the 1-3 start, Franklin suffered the same treatment.
Back then, USC has remained adamant that their season was not over, that their goals remained intact. Eight wins later, the Trojans could not garner enough help for a shot at the Pac-12 Championship, but in bouncing back loudly with eight wins, they jumped into the national conversation as one of the hottest teams in all of college football. They also jumped back into the rankings and now, they have placed themselves into the Rose Bowl.