MIAMI, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- The third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes and fifth-rated Southern California Trojans would ordinarily have met each other in the Rose Bowl.
Their matchup, however, will take place 3,000 miles away in the Orange Bowl Thursday night.
The Orange Bowl used the rules of the Bowl Championship Series to execute a perfect end-around, landing a matchup of two of the hottest teams in college football. With Ohio State already in the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange chose high-profile teams from the Big Ten and Pac-10 Conferences, leagues traditionally aligned with the Rose Bowl.
"Funny how things work out," said fourth-year Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who admitted that in the summer his team had set its sights on playing in the Rose Bowl.
The good fortune continued for the Orange Bowl even after the pairing was announced. The game gained additional luster when Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy and Iowa signal-caller Brad Banks was second in the voting.
"There's going to be a lot more pressure on me in that game and he's definitely got something to play for, so it's going to be exciting," Palmer said.
The Orange Bowl normally has trouble selling tickets in games when it does not have the national title contest, but this game sold out quickly for good reasons.
"Just a perfect matchup," said Coach Pete Carroll, who has built a 14-3 record with the Trojans after a 2-5 start.
Palmer has been at his best during USC's final eight games, passing for 2,676 yards and 27 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He likely won the Heisman Trophy on Thanksgiving weekend when he passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-13 win over Notre Dame.
It capped a remarkable turnaround for the senior, who until this year had fallen short of expectations. Palmer played in the Sun Bowl in 1998 and the Las Vegas Bowl last year and lost each time. Now it is time for a major bowl and he brings a strong cast of characters with him.
Freshman Mike Williams has emerged as one of the best receivers in the country and one reason is because defenses also must pay attention to Kareem Kelly and Keary Colbert. There also is a deep stable of running backs that include Sultan McCullough and Justin Fargas.
On the other side of the ball, safety Troy Polamalu leads a defense that ranks seventh in the nation against the run.
USC (10-2) will take a six-game winning streak to the Orange Bowl while Iowa (11-1) has won nine straight games since its only blemish of the season. Iowa squandered a 24-7 halftime lead in losing to Iowa State, or it could have been playing for even higher stakes.
The Orange Bowl will mark a homecoming for Banks, a native of Belle Glades, Fla. who threw for 2,369 yards and 25 touchdowns with four interceptions. Banks had never started a major college game before this season but emerged as the unquestioned leader.
Banks' favorite target is Maurice Brown, who had 10 touchdown catches this season. On the ground, Fred Russell rushed for 1,219 yards while being limited to 10 games due to injury.
Defensive lineman Jared Clauss and linebacker Grant Steen anchor a run defense ranked second in the nation. The Hawkeyes will need a big game from safety Derek Pagel as the secondary tries to contain Palmer and his speedy group of receivers.
Iowa has the edge in the kicking game. Nate Kaeding won the Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in college football and has scored a school record 115 points. In its first bowl game under Ferentz, Iowa defeated Texas Tech, 16-13, last year in the Alamo Bowl.
USC is 25-15 in bowl games, but has not won since beating Northwestern, 41-32, in the Rose Bowl following the 1995 season.
USC leads the series with Iowa, 6-2, but the teams have not met since a 55-0 win by the Trojans in 1976.