Two 11-2 teams meet in the Cotton Bowl on Monday in Arlington, Texas, when No. 16 Tulane takes on No. 10 Southern California.
Both squads are coming off appearances in their conference championship games. The Green Wave beat UCF for the American Athletic Conference crown, while the Trojans fell to Utah in the Pac-12’s title bout.
Tulane is playing in its fourth bowl game in the past five seasons, but this may be the biggest bowl game the Green Wave have played in since they faced Texas A&M in the 1940 Sugar Bowl. Tulane has a chance to win a New Year’s Six bowl, beat a Power 5 opponent and achieve just the second 12-win season in program history.
For USC, an appearance in the Cotton Bowl caps off a remarkable one-year turnaround under first-year head coach Lincoln Riley. The Trojans went 4-8 last season — marking just the third time in program history that that USC took that many defeats.
With Riley on the sideline and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at quarterback, the Trojans won double-digit games for the first time in five seasons. USC enters the Cotton Bowl with the nation’s third-best scoring offense at 41.1 points per game.
Williams sustained a hamstring injury in the loss to Utah but aims to play in the bowl game.
“I’m doing well. Hamstring is doing well,” Williams said recently. “I’m confident that I will be out there.”
While USC will be armed with Williams, it will be missing a handful of key players on both sides of the ball. Williams’ top target — former Biletnikoff Trophy winner Jordan Addison — will miss the game due to an ankle injury. Addison caught 59 passes for 875 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
USC will also be without a pair of starters on the offensive line, Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilon, who are rehabbing injuries ahead of the NFL Draft. And on defense, linebacker Ralen Goforth entered the portal and announced a transfer to Washington. Goforth had 43 tackles and an interception this year.
Tulane enters the game with the 23rd-ranked scoring defense in the nation, allowing 20.5 points per game, and the 18th-best pass defense, allowing 188.5 yards per game through the air. Facing a USC offense without Addison and with a reshuffled offensive line, the Green Wave should have a chance to frustrate Williams.
In the Pac-12 championship game, Utah sacked Williams seven times. Tulane tallied six sacks in the AAC title game against UCF.
Williams amassed 4,075 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 66.1 percent of his throws.
“It’s very exciting, to have the opportunity to play a player of (Williams’) caliber, for sure,” Tulane linebacker Dorian Williams said, according to NOLA.com. “He has the ability to make any pass on the field and does a great job of moving in the pocket and outside the pocket. He has great legs.”
Tulane is led on offense by a mobile quarterback, too. Michael Pratt led the AAC in passer efficiency rating this season with a 159.7 mark, but he also rushed 114 times for 395 yards and 10 touchdowns. Through the air, he completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,775 yards and 25 touchdowns with five interceptions.
“We had a few of those mobile quarterbacks we played in games throughout this year,” USC defensive tackle Tyrone Taleni said. “We just needed to do better up front, making plays, executing our calls, and once we do that, it’ll be easy to contain him and not make any explosive plays in the backfield.”
USC is 2-1 all-time against Tulane, though the teams haven’t met since 1946.
This is the third time USC is playing in the Cotton Bowl. The Trojans beat Texas Tech in January 1995 and lost to Ohio State in December 2017. Tulane will be competing in the Cotton Bowl for the first time.
–Field Level Media