PASADENA, CALIF., DEC. 31 -- Two thousand miles and 116 days from their season opener, unlikely conference champions Michigan State and Southern California meet Friday in the 74th Rose Bowl (WRC-TV-4, WMAR-TV-2, 4:45 p.m.).
The No. 8 Spartans, who defeated the Trojans, 27-13, in East Lansing, Mich., on Labor Day, are hoping to end a Big Ten jinx. The Pacific-10 has won six straight Rose Bowls and 16 of the last 18.
"Our attitude is this is a new year, a new team," said Michigan State Coach George Perles, who as defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers earned a Super Bowl ring after his last Rose Bowl trip in 1980. "This is the first time the Spartans have been out here in 22 years. We have to play this game just like any other and eliminate everything else that comes with it."
A capacity crowd of 104,000 and a national television audience of more than 100 million is expected for the game. The forecast calls for wind up to 25 mph.
Michigan State (8-2-1) is powered by silky running back Lorenzo White and a stunting defense ranked No. 1 in the nation against the run. Only three teams have scored in double figures against the unit anchored by middle linebacker Percy Snow.
USC (8-3), ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press and No. 17 by UPI, is led by elusive Rodney Peete, who holds 11 school records, completed 60 percent of his passes, was sacked just seven times and stood fourth in the NCAA in efficiency.
"It's hard to believe there's a better quarterback in college football today," USC offensive coordinator Chuck Stobart said.
Under first-year coach Larry Smith, the Trojans averaged 430 yards in offense per game, but will be without injured 1,000-yard rusher Steven Webster. He will be replaced by freshmen Scott Lockwood and Ricky Ervins, who carried just 69 times between them.
The game marks only the fifth time in the 44-year history of the Pac-10/Big Ten rivalry that Rose Bowl teams are meeting for the second time in one season.
"It's rare when teams get an opportunity to face each other from start to finish," Smith said. "I think both teams have changed a lot since the first game. They've matured and developed."
Neither school was deemed of Rose Bowl quality when they met Sept. 7. Perennial powers Michigan, Ohio State and UCLA were the favorites; Michigan State and USC were picked for the middle of the pack.
In the opener, USC committed five turnovers in the second half and gained just 61 yards rushing. After beating the Trojans, the Spartans lost to Notre Dame and Florida State by a combined 62-11 score.
But Michigan State did not lose again. The Spartans won three straight, tied Illinois and closed the regular season with four consecutive victories. In the conference clincher against Indiana, White established career highs with 56 carries for 292 yards.
White had 1,459 yards and 14 touchdowns this year, but finished fourth in the Heisman balloting.
The Trojans, making an unprecedented 25th Rose Bowl appearance, won their last four games, upsetting UCLA, 17-13, in the season finale at the Coliseum. USC trailed, 13-0, at halftime, but Peete rallied the Trojans by throwing for a career-high 304 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.