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USC vs. Tulane 2023 Cotton Bowl: Preview, Predictions, Betting Odds, and Where to Watch

Happy New Year! The end of one year and the dawning of another means it’s College Football Bowl Season and there are no better games than the annual “New Year’s Six.”

The National Championship matchup is set: underdog TCU will square off against reigning champion Georgia at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood next week. However, there are still a few other bowl games to watch before then, including one Southern California team that may have come one injured hamstring away from playing in the National Championship game themselves.

The 2023 Cotton Bowl Classic features two surprise teams that have managed to exceed expectations in 2022.

Let’s start with the No. 8 ranked USC Trojans.

The Trojans are your typical college football heavyweight with 11 national championships to their name. However, over the last decade, they have been anything but the powerhouse program they once were.

After finishing the 2021 college football season with a pitiful record of 4-8, they fired head coach Clay Helton and made a splash by stealing Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma to take over the helm at USC.

Riley immediately infused the program with energy and fresh talent via the transfer portal, but the new-look Trojans were still not expected to compete for a Pac-12 title in year one, let alone the national championship.

USC was expected to finish third in the Pac 12 during an early preseason poll, with some media members selecting them as low as seventh. Led by Heisman Trophy Award winner Caleb Williams, the Trojans defied expectations by going 11-1 during the regular season. They entered the Pac 12 Championship game ranked as the No. 4 team in the country and a win over Utah would have booked their ticket to the College Football Playoff.

Despite leading the Pac 12 Title game 17-3, an early first-quarter hamstring injury to Williams all but ended those CFP dreams. Playing on one-leg, Williams and the Trojans were outscored 44-7 over the final three quarters and they fell down the rankings to No. 7, settling for a New Year’s Six matchup with No. 16 Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.

“If you’re not careful, you’ll default to being okay just being okay,” said Trojans’ defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “So it pains me to say that that’s what we’ve been the bulk of the year. We’re still learning. You try to bend reality to the situation that you’re in. We had an opportunity to play for a championship. And we couldn’t bend reality far enough to get that thing done. We played good-enough defense 11 times. We didn’t play good-enough defense two times. But I don’t take a lot of solace in that. We are expected to have a championship-level defense.”

The Trojans will now seek their first 12-win season since 2008, but they will have to do it shorthanded after a handful of their starters opted not to play in the Cotton Bowl Classic on Monday. The Trojans will be without star wide receiver Jordan Addison, starting left guard Andrew Vorhees, center Brett Neilon and running back Travis Dye.

USC’s opponent in the 2023 Cotton Bowl is American Athletic Conference champion Tulane. The No. 16 ranked Green Wave are by far and away, the Cinderella of the 2022 college football season.

Similar to USC, an early preseason media poll expected Tulane to finish seventh in the AAC and end the year with a losing record, forecasting them to miss out on a bowl game entirely.

Instead, the Green Wave shocked the college football world and defied the doubters. They tied the FBS record for the biggest single season turnaround in history, going from 2-10 in 2021, to 11-2 in 2022. Rising from unranked to conference champions, Tulane dominated their division, avenging an early season loss to Central Florida by routing them in the AAC Title game 45-28. The Green Wave are also just 202 yards shy of breaking the single-season school record for total yards.

Now, a New Year’s Six Bowl game awaits them and a date with USC in the Cotton Bowl Classic. A victory on Monday would give them their first 12-win season since they went a perfect 12-0 in 1998.

We expect a fun and exciting matchup between USC and Tulane at AT&T Stadium on January 2nd. USC’s piddling defense has difficulty tackling, and Tulane, led by QB Michael Pratt, should be able to put up plenty of points on the Trojans.

“I think their strongest suit is they have a bunch of athletes all over the field. They move around well,” Pratt said. “But I think they leave a lot of open gaps and give up some opportunities for some big plays.”

Pratt has thrown for over 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in six of their last seven games and running back Tyjae Spears has an FBS-best seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Needless to say, it’s going to be a long day for the Trojans defense.

“I feel like the chemistry is there. I think there’s some times where the communication may be off or we might not be doing the right assignments for certain stuff,” said USC’s AP All-America edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu.

For USC, everything runs through their Heisman Trophy winner. Earlier this week, Williams practiced with the Trojans and told reporters he will play in the Cotton bowl, despite his hamstring not being 100 percent healed. Williams dominated opponents during the 2021 season, throwing for 4,075 yards and 37 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He also had 372 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground. If he is hampered by the hamstring in any way, or reinjures it, it could spell disaster for the Trojans.

A few other things to note for the Trojans: they have never won at AT&T Stadium, going 0-2 in the “House that Jerry built,” including a 52-6 blowout loss to Alabama in 2016. The Trojans are no strangers to the Cotton Bowl, playing in the Texas classic back in 2017, an eventual loss to Ohio State 24-7.

USC will look to reverse that streak of bad luck inside the home of the Dallas Cowboys in 2023. Their matchup with Tulane is the first time the two teams have met in over 75 years! The last time USC played Tulane was in 1946, a 20-13 victory for the Trojans. USC’s hoping history repeats itself, as the stage has now been set, the war has been waged, and the battle on the field will soon begin with only one team leaving the Cotton Bowl Classic victorious.

Here is everything you need to know about the 2023 Cotton Bowl:

Information: USC and Tulane will tango at 10:00 AM PST on Monday, January 2nd at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on ESPN.

Betting Lines: USC (-2) is a two-point favorite over Tulane with the over/under set at 64 total points.

Prediction: USC 41, Tulane 37


Source: NBC Los Angeles

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