USC, with three losses, was never in the discussion for the College Football Playoff. In fact, the Trojans wouldn't have made the playoff even if it featured eight teams and not just four.
But, know this, nobody wants to play USC right now.
The Trojans ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, and although they fell one game short of winning the Pac-12 South, they were chosen ahead of the Buffaloes to represent the league in the Rose Bowl after league champ Washington earned a No. 4 seed in the playoff.
USC (9-3) will play Big Ten champion Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
The Nittany Lions, which were No. 5 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings are mighty hot, too, making this, arguably, the best of the non-semifinal matchups. Penn State (11-2) is one-up on USC in that it has a nine-game winning streak that includes a home victory over Ohio State and a 38-31 triumph over Wisconsin in the league title game.
So, each team has a similar comeback story this season, led by coaches -- USC with Clay Helton and Penn State with James Franklin -- who were considered to be on varying degree of hot seats back in September. The Trojans started 1-3, starting with a 52-6 blowout loss to Alabama in Arlington, Texas. They lost their first two conference games -- at Stanford and at Utah.
"You know, when we started 0-2, we have talked about, we kind of went into playoff football mode," Helton said.
"We understood that being able to do something special throughout the season that we were going to have to go on a run and go on a run in conference. And to be able to win seven straight conference games, eight total for the second season in a row, along with that Notre Dame game, put us in this position to play in a very, very special game."
For USC, the turning point coincided with the insertion of redshirt freshman Sam Darnold into the starting lineup in the fourth game. Although USC lost to the Utes 31-27, it was more because of a defense that allowed a touchdown in the final seconds.
Since that game, the Darnold-led offense has racked up at least 400 yards in each game, with the Trojans beating opponents by an average of 20.5 points during their winning streak.
USC -- ninth in the selection committee rankings -- will be making its first Rose Bowl appearance since after the 2009 game, when it played ... Penn State.
Soon after, each program went through tough times because of NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations. The NCAA punished USC over illegal benefits to running back Reggie Bush; Penn State was hit because of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal.
Now, it's all Roses again.
"Credit to our players and credit to what they've accomplished," Helton said. "These are the things that you dream about as a little kid."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Ronald Jones II, after an early rib injury and often playing behind Justin Davis, came on strong in the second half of the season. He rushed for 1,027 in the regular season, with 742 yards coming in the final five games. He has the kind of explosive skills that Penn State saw in the Big Ten title game, when Wisconsin's Corey Clement ran for 164 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown.
--CB Adoree Jackson is in any discussion of the most electric players in college football. He scored on a 55-yard punt return, a 52-yard pass and a 97-yard kick return against Notre Dame, in addition to breaking up two passes. He usually hasn't seen more than a couple of plays on offense in as game this season (if at all), but the junior is likely off to the NFL after this, so it might be a case of "anything goes."
--WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is another USC junior who seems likely to declare for the NFL Draft. Smith-Schuster will be a big test for a Penn State secondary, which is the most vulnerable part of the Nittany Lions' defense, especially because the Trojans have so many other targets that bear watching. Smith-Schuster was dealing with a hip-pointer late in the season, so the time off will serve him well.
--LB Cameron Smith, a sophomore, has a team-high 79 tackles, including seven for loss, and he's known to be a super run-stuffer. We'll see how he holds up on those inside runs by Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.