Neither the oddsmakers nor history will be on Georgia Tech’s side on Monday.
Tech will be a 9.5-point underdog against the University of Southern California (7-5) when it takes the field for the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, where the Yellow Jackets suffered a 30-27 loss against Utah in the 2011 Sun Bowl.
The loss to the Utes dropped the Jackets to 0-4 in bowl games under head coach Paul Johnson, and the team had to apply for an NCAA exemption just to play in a bowl game this year following a 6-7 record.
But despite recent history and what the projections suggest, Jackets sophomore special teams player and former South Forsyth standout Kyle Travis thinks this bowl outcome will be different. More than four weeks removed from their last game — a 21-15 loss to Florida St. in the ACC Championship game — Travis and his teammates are eager to get back out on the field against an opponent and prove the naysayers wrong.
“We talked about [the spread] when I was home for Christmas, but it doesn’t mean anything,” said Travis, a 2010 South graduate.
“We’re very confident. We’re tired of hitting our own guys [in practice] and want to hit somebody else. We’ve had a long break and are anxious to play.”
Though the majority of his playing time comes on special teams, Travis, who is listed as 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, is transitioning from outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme to inside linebacker in the 4-3 defensive scheme coached by Charles Kelly, who replaced former defensive coordinator Al Groh in early October.
“It’s more instinctive for me,” Travis said. “You get more contact. It’s more of an NFL defense and you don’t think as much and just play. [Inside linebackers] are more like the captains of the ‘D’.”
USC never thought El Paso would be its bowl destination, but after a disappointing season, the Trojans will square off against Georgia Tech for the first since 1973.
Some statistics in the matchup side with the Jackets. The Trojans are 0-2 in the Sun Bowl, with their most recent loss to TCU in 1998.
USC allowed four teams to run for 200 yards or more this season, including an Oregon team that racked up 426 yards on the ground, meaning Georgia Tech running backs Orwin Smith (673 yards) and Zach Laskey (637) could enjoy a big day against a porous front seven.
“I think they’re ready to go,” said Travis, who is close friends with Laskey. “They want to show how hard they’ve been working.”
The Jackets may also benefit from USC’s undisciplined play. While Georgia Tech ranks 24th in fewest penalties per game, the Trojans are ranked a dismal 113th in the nation with an average of eight penalties per game for 66.5 yards.
But for Georgia Tech to pull out the victory, it will have to contain star receiver Marqise Lee. The sophomore has 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns to lead the nation in receptions and is second for receiving yards.
The Trojans will try to exploit a Tech secondary that has given up 239.2 yards per game and ranks 81st in passing efficiency defense. Quarterback Matt Barkley will not play in the game after separating his shoulder against UCLA, giving way to freshman Max Wittek.
Wittek, who only started the final game for the Trojans, threw for 186 yards while boasting a 60.9 completion percentage and 8.1 yards per attempt. However, the former four-star recruit threw two interceptions in a 22-13 loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 24.
“It doesn’t matter who plays [quarterback],” Travis said. “We’re a disciplined team. We have confidence no matter who starts. We’ve got a bunch of guys on the scout team that do a real good job.
“They’ve got some big receivers that are going to do stuff after the catch. We have to be in pursuit and play as a team to stop their players.”
The 2012 Hyundai Sun Bowl will kick off at 2 p.m. on Monday.