It was Christmas 2001, when Pete Carroll finished off his first season at Southern California with a thud.

A Trojans squad that needed a late-season winning streak to go 6-5, but featured Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu, lost to Utah 10-6 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The next season, USC re-established itself as a national power, starting a streak of seven seasons in which it won the Pac-10 and went to the Bowl Championship Series.

That run ended for the Trojans this season. USC finished 8-4 and in the middle of the Pac-10 pack. Instead of a prime date on the bowl schedule, the Trojans were shipped upstate to San Francisco where they will play Boston College in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 26.

"There are a lot of things to look forward to with this game," Carroll said. "We're playing a team with a strong tradition and it looks like it's a good matchup across the board.

"Also, we get to stay in California, and that's good for our fans, as it will be easy for them to get to the game.

"Most of all, we get to play one more game this year. We're disappointed with the way we played the last half of this season, so the Emerald Bowl gives us a chance to finish the year on a positive note."

But how motivated will USC be to take out its frustrations on a BC team that comes in 8-4, but seems to be no match for even these not-so-mighty Trojans?

The Eagles beat only two teams that will play in bowls and neither would qualify as a heavyweight: Florida State and Central Michigan.

Against the three best Atlantic Coast Conference teams BC faced, the Eagles lost to Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina by a combined 104-34.

Boston College can't match up with USC's talent and athleticism, but who knows what simply getting a crack at the Trojans might do for the Eagles.

They don't want to hear about USC's down year. Beating the Trojans, even in the Emerald Bowl, would go down as a big win for BC.

Just like it was for the Utes back in 2001.

The pre-New Year's Day bowl picks:

Saturday, Dec. 19

New Mexico Bowl

Wyoming (plus 11) vs. Fresno State

Cowboys did not beat an FBS team with a winning record ... FRESNO STATE 39-14.

St. Petersburg (Fla.) Bowl

Rutgers (minus 2 1/2) vs. UCF

Scarlet Knights have three-bowl winning streak ... RUTGERS 24-17.

Sunday, Dec. 20

New Orleans Bowl

Southern Mississippi (minus 3) vs. Middle Tennessee

Golden Eagles are 3-0 in New Orleans Bowl ... SOUTHERN MISS 34-21.

Tuesday, Dec. 22

Las Vegas Bowl

BYU (plus 1 1/2) vs. Oregon State

Cougars have played in last four Vegas bowls, going 2-2 ... OREGON STATE 33-24.

Wednesday, Dec. 23

Poinsettia Bowl

Utah (plus 3 1/2) vs. California

Utes have won eight straight bowls, best current streak ... CAL 27-21.

Thursday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl

SMU (plus 15) vs. Nevada

Wolf Pack is first NCAA team with three 1,000-yard rushers ... NEVADA 45-28.

Saturday, Dec. 26

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Ohio (minus 2 1/2) vs. Marshall

Maybe there are too many bowl games ... OHIO 21-17.

Meineke Bowl

North Carolina (plus 3) vs. Pittsburgh

Tar Heels sixth in nation in total defense; Pitt tops in sacks ... PITTSBURGH 10-9.

Emerald Bowl

Southern California (minus 9) vs. Boston College

Trojans come to play ... USC 27-6.

Sunday, Dec. 27

Music City Bowl

Clemson (minus 7) vs. Kentucky

Third Music City appearance for Wildcats in last four years ... CLEMSON 35-21.

Monday, Dec. 28

Independence Bowl

Texas A&M (plus 7) vs. Georgia

Remember what Aggies QB Jerrod Johnson did to good Texas D? ... TEXAS A&M 42-35.

Tuesday, Dec. 29

EagleBank Bowl

Temple (plus 4 1/2) vs. UCLA

And the winner goes to the Final Four. Oops, wrong sport ... UCLA 24-14.

Champs Sports Bowl

Miami (minus 3) vs. Wisconsin

'Canes trying to make statement for next season ... MIAMI 28-14.

Wednesday, Dec. 30

Humanitarian Bowl

Bowling Green (minus 1) vs. Idaho

Vandals playing on rival Boise State's home turf ... BOWLING GREEN 38-24.

Holiday Bowl

Nebraska (plus 1 1/2) vs. Arizona (8-4)

Not your typical Holiday Bowl ... NEBRASKA 14-10.

Thursday, Dec. 31

Sun Bowl

Stanford (plus 8) vs. Oklahoma

Could be Toby Gerhart's goodbye game for Cardinal ... OKLAHOMA 31-24.

Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force (plus 4 1/2) vs. Houston

Rematch of Cougars 34-28 victory last season ... HOUSTON 44-36.

Texas Bowl

Missouri (minus 6 1/2) vs. Navy

Middies have lost three straight bowls, but been very competitive ... MISSOURI 28-23.

Insight Bowl

Minnesota (minus 2 1/2) vs. Iowa State

Two mediocre teams destined to play dull game ... IOWA STATE 14-10.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Virginia Tech (minus 4 1/2) vs. Tennessee

Hokies trying to win back some pride for ACC against SEC ... VIRGINIA TECH 28-20.

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Last week of regular season: 7-4 (straight); 6-5 (vs. points).

Season: 216-60 (straight); 133-123-4 (vs. points).