Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hayes: Paterno will outsmart Carroll

According to Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, the long time coaching veteran (Joe Paterno) will outsmart the newer kid on the block (Pete Carroll) to give Penn State the Rose Bowl victory. To be more specific, Hayes gives reference to Lions offensive coordinator Galen Hall and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.

In not so many words, Hayes claims the Trojans offensive line is overrated, regardless of the recorded numbers for sacks allowed on the season (17). He believes Aaron Maybin will have success off the end, and the physicality of the PSU secondary will disrupt the timing of the USC passing game. He mentions that SC has problems with dual-threat quarterbacks, naming Dennis Dixon and Patrick Cowan (of all people), without ever giving a mention to Illinois’ Juice Williams. He also points to the success Terrelle Pryor had against the Trojans in only his 3rd game. The mobility of Daryll Clark will allow successful ball movement, and the presence of Maybin will result in the Trojans offense sputtering on the opposing side. Well, at least that’s what I gathered from the reading. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it’s either loyalty or his omissions that disallow me to share his vision.

His mention of Patrick Cowan is poor. Though UCLA did score a major 2006 upset of USC, the Bruins offense managed (and needed) just 13 points to win. It was a tremendous defensive performance by Dwayne Walker’s unit that brought victory. Dennis Dixon had more failures in his college career against Carroll defenses than success. He fails to mention that. Washington’s Stanback of years past, and Jake Locker today, failed to will their programs to victory with their mobility. Vince Young was mentioned early in his article, but not in the section about mobility. That’s a good thing, because comparing Clark to Young would be laughable.

And finally, the reference to Aaron Maybin being powered by his quest for NFL dollars is like saying Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman are future welfare recipients. The Buckeyes defensive unit contains more NFL first round talent than any other program the Trojans faced this year, yet USC struck early and often. In the end, when it's all said and done, Matt Hayes may be absolutely right about his projection and reasoning for it. But as of right now, based on his “strong points”, I’m not feeling it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The 'here we go again' Rose Bowl preview

Our cycle is nearly complete. The Trojans rang in the New Year with a dismantling of the Fighting Illini. And here we are again, waiting for another ball to drop, and a Big 10 opponent to fall. But despite the track record, we have those same whispers of doubt. Analysts are telling us why this upcoming Big 10 opponent differs from the others, just as they did in years prior. I’m sure you’ve heard it. Penn State is unlike the rest, and presents a formidable foe for USC. Every preview of Rose Bowls past are etched in my brain, and I can easily rewind tape and insert “new team” here. Without a doubt, the class of the Pac 10 has overwhelmed the powers of the Big 10, yet we’re told again to proceed with caution.

Southern California re-emerged as a football power in 2002. The season was capped with the drubbing of Big 10 co-champion Iowa in the Orange Bowl, though we were told to fear the play of Brad Banks. A 38-17 final score revealed nothing frightening. In 2003, The Trojans were snubbed from the BCS National Championship game. They entered the Rose Bowl with an opportunity to claim the AP title. We were told to fear the Big 10 Champion Michigan wolverines and their highly touted defense. The 28-14 final score doesn’t even begin to tell the story of USC’s offensive dominance, in a game where Matt Leinart had more touchdown receptions than Michigan’s Braylon Edwards.

In 2007, the Big 10 champion Buckeyes were off to the championship game, and SC drew the runner up Wolverines for a second time. Again we were told to fear a one loss team that felt they deserved to be playing for a national championship, instead of being jumped by Florida and sent to Pasadena. They were supposedly an angry bunch looking to make a statement. After USC’s 32-18 victory, the wolverines were knocked from all championship discussions. Last year, analysts told us to fear Illinois and their Juice. A 49-17 paddling says that Juice was sour. And then the Buckeyes came to visit in September, returning one of the most experienced rosters in the country and fresh off a BCS championship game loss. You know the routine. We were told to be afraid. We were told that USC would be pummeled by the Buckeyes on their road to another BCS championship game appearance. Ohio State finished on the negative side of a 35-3 final, and would never be in BCS championship discussions again.

So what makes Penn State different? Is Daryl Clark greater than Juice Williams, Brad Banks, Chad Henne, and the others? Is Evan Royster a better back than Chris Perry, Mike Hart, Rashard Mendenhall, etc? Is Jordan Norwood a bigger playmaker than Braylon Edwards, Mario Manningham, and Brian Robiskie? Or could it possibly be that analysts are trying to tell us that the 2008 Trojans defense doesn’t stack up to the defenses before them that locked down those opposing players of past games?

The season Statistics for USC and Penn State are nearly identical, so why do we hear that the Trojans’ 13th ranked offense ( 453.08 yards per game) is inconsistent and sluggish, while the 14th ranked Nittany Lions offense (452.17) is considered potent and high flying? Why are we being told that the nation’s 5th ranked defense has the ability to shutdown USC, but the 1st ranked defense will have their hands full with Penn State? Does that make any sense?

If there’s a difference between this year’s opponent and the others, it would have to be in the coaching staff and Joe Paterno’s ability to prepare for big games. Each Big 10 coaching staff, going back to 2002, prepared poorly for USC. Not only were their preparations poor, so were adjustments. In contrast, Pete Carroll’s men are always prepared to play, and halftime adjustments usually snatch the hearts from their opponents. If not for the amazing individual effort of Vince Young, the Trojans are easily 6-0 in BCS bowl games, after the lengthy preparation period between end of season and gameday.

By now, everyone is aware of USC’s defensive scoring numbers, allowing a mere 7.8 points a game to opponents. What isn’t advertised as often is the fact that 8 of the 12 season opponents failed to score a single point in the second half of ballgames, including Ohio State and Virginia. In fact, if not for Trojan penalties that assisted the Buckeyes and Cavaliers movement down field, they would have joined Arizona State, Washington, and Washington State as shutout victims.

So we hear the whispers again, about game breaking personnel and superior defenses meeting the Men of Troy in the Rose Bowl. Is it another year of hype or is it finally legitimate? I’ve ignored the publicizing of players, but the strength of the coaching staff grabs my attention. And not because they’ve proven to be greater than the staff at USC, but because they are unproven and their works virtually unknown, until they face their greatest opponent and staff on New Years Day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Was Florida the right choice for Emmanuel Moody?

Emmanuel Moody didn’t care much for sharing. Recruited from the lone star state, he had expectations of becoming the next feature back at USC. Instead, he became another piece of a “running back by committee” offensive scheme. He finished his freshman season with 459 yards on 79 attempts, the second leading rusher on the squad, despite an ankle injury forcing him to miss the last 4 games of his first season. But by the following spring, after descending on the depth chart, he chose to no longer exist in the shadow of others, and was destined for the state of Florida.

Florida was the defending national champions, and possessed all-world quarterback Tim Tebow. But as strong as the Gators were in many categories, they lacked a true running game and a feature back. In regards to Moody, it was a likely match made in heaven. But now that he’s seen the playing field of his new home, did he make the right decision? His new program has just one loss, same as his old, but they are marching into the National Championship game. If it was a quest for a ring, apparently the Swamp was a great selection. But when it comes to playing in the shadow of others, nothing has changed.

Moody considered himself the forgotten man in the 2007 USC spring camp, but is virtually invisible in the 2008 Gators offense. Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin are easily the offensive stars, with Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey the featured tailbacks. His numbers are nearly identical in his first year at Florida as they were at USC (417 yards on 57 carries), though he’s averaging more yards per carry against Florida’s opponents. He again missed 4 games, and his best output was 116 yards against the Citadel, in a game where he scored his first and only touchdown since leaving Southern California.

The youth of the Trojan stable drove Moody out, but what he finds in Florida is more of the same. Demps is only a freshman, and Rainey a sophomore. Just as none of Southern Cal’s backs were short on eligibility, neither are his new teammates in Florida. By mid January, Moody may be fitted for a ring. But if his intention was to spotlight his talent, he may find the dark cloud of competition has followed him to another coast.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is Lou Holtz annoying to anyone else?

Be it "pep talks", "Dr. Lou", or the fact that he once coached at Notre Dame, Lou Holtz annoys me. Being a former coach of the Fighting Irish, the irritation comes natural to anyone supporting the men of Troy, just as I still view Pat Haden’s work with the Notre Dame Broadcasting Company as treason. But ESPN’s initial hiring of Lou Holtz was tolerable, before quickly moving to irritable. Its one thing to be a homer, as I am, but the rationale and analysis should at least be sensible.

It just wasn’t sensible to pick Notre Dame to win damn near every game in the past two seasons, as it wasn’t to select Southern Cal to falter in the majority of theirs. Those opinions are strictly based on love for the Irish and Hate for the Trojans. Those opinions are clouded by rivalry, and it happens. But it’s when idiocy is used to support theories, that high paid network employees are transformed into jackasses.

An example of one of those occurring moments, In an earlier ESPN Rose Bowl preview, Lou Holtz says Penn State can hang with anyone in the country “particularly if you give Joe Paterno time to recover from that hip surgery”, to which Reece Davis made a remark about the 92 year old man suiting up and playing in that game. No disrespect to Joe Pa, but his players have been physically prepped for every game by more youthful assistant coaches. Paterno has been coaching from the box, and I think it makes little difference, as he's both won and loss big games from that position. But I think the capper of Holtz’ Penn State praise came with his listing of everything Penn State does and doesn’t do:

“…they play sound defense, they’re fundamentally sound, they don’t beat themselves, they don’t make mistakes, they don’t turn the ball over..”

Penn State has one loss this season. Iowa was able to pull the upset, because the Nittany Lions “beat themselves, made a mistake, and turned the ball over”, as Daryll Clark threw an interception to set up Iowa’s winning drive with under 4 minutes to play in that game.

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lions anxious to get this Rose Bowl Party Started

Penn State was anxious to get to the left coast. The Nittany Lions made their Los Angeles arrival on Sunday, 12 days before they’re scheduled to take the field against the 5th ranked Trojans. They’ll be rooming in Santa Monica, and conducting practices at the Home Depot Center.

The 6th ranked Lions haven’t played a football game in over a month, since defeating Michigan State on November 15th to claim the Big 10 championship and secure the Rose Bowl birth. The program hasn’t been to Los Angeles since it defeated Oregon in the 1995 Rose Bowl, and hasn’t faced USC since losing the College Football Kickoff Classic of 2000, playing in East Rutherford New Jersey. Their last defeat of the Trojans came one year prior, in the same Kickoff Classic game.

Penn State has never beaten USC in Los Angeles (0-3), including a loss in the 1923 Rose Bowl game. They’ve only played and defeated one Pac 10 program since last losing to the Trojans in ’02, and that was the 45-14 destruction of Oregon State earlier this year. They’re a confident bunch that earlier wished for the match up with Southern Cal, and now they’ve got it. They’ll be carrying the pride of the Big 10, a frustrated conference that has dropped the last 8 games to the Cardinal and Gold.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

F**k it, UCLA won one

UCLA scores few victories over Trojans football, but they managed to claim a big one on Thursday. 5-star prospect Morrell Presley has de-committed from USC in favor of UCLA. The 6'4, 215 pound tight end visited both schools this month, and determined (in his words) that Neuheisel would "transform him into a better person and better man". That appears to be the marketing ploy in Westwood, as those were nearly the exact words used by Maurice Jones-Drew, in an attempt to slam the USC program earlier this year. But "development of males and persons" isn't the only thing being sold across town, as Presley also made a reference to the current instability of the Southern Cal coaching staff.

"And with some of SC's coaches leaving lately, just like that, I don't know what to expect. I know UCLA's coaches are going to be around for awhile", said Presley to the Sporting News.

The coaching carousel began years ago, yet it didn't stop him from originally committing to USC. I would have to believe this was stressed even more, with the departure of Sarkisian being most current, during his visit to the UCLA campus.

Something else that may be more troublesome for USC recruiting is what Presley then went on to say:

"When I took my trip to SC, they had some players who'd come in as the top seniors in the nation," . "Some of them told me they regret going there, because they weren't playing. That puts a lot of stress on a person, and I don't want that to be me."

If there's truth to this, the Trojans may want to rethink which players are used to host recruits, as it only provides ammunition and eases the recruiting battle for UCLA. Presley is rated as the top tight end in the nation, and we should remember from his days at USC, that the tight end is very important in a Norm Chow offense.

From a player's standpoint, I can't say Presley made a wrong decision. He wants to play now, and wants to play at the next level. Under the molding of Norm Chow, he's likely to get there. But as a fan of the Empire, I just have to suck it up and say, "F**k it, they won, and the Trojans took one on the chin."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All-American total climbs to 154

USC continues the football tradition of producing first team All-Americans, and the number now climbs to 154. Linebacker Brian Cushing, named first team All-American by Sports Illustrated, joins Rey Maualuga and Taylor Mays as the 2008 recipients of this honor. The Trojans trail only Notre Dame (178) in the All-American category, but the gap continues to close with each passing year.

Both Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing are certain first round selections for February’s NFL draft, and assuming Taylor Mays opts to forego his senior year at USC, he will join his defensive teammates in that big money round. By all indications, Mays will not return. He’s stated that a projection in the top 15 would be enough to send him through the Coliseum exits. I believe he’s easily a top ten selection, with NFL GMs salivating 3 years for him to become draft eligible.

Reggie Bush’s season is over

Reggie Bush opened his 2008 season by giving the New Orleans Saints all they expected and paid for. He was leading the league in scoring, finding the end zone rushing, receiving, and returning kicks. He displayed the electrifying play that earned him the Heisman Trophy at USC. But everything came to a screeching halt, as the surgically repaired knee began to flare. He required a second surgery, and returned to the field two weeks ago. And now a sprain of the medial collateral ligament against the Bears last Thursday, sidelines Bush for the remainder of the season.

The sprain doesn’t require surgery, and coach Sean Payton opted to place Bush on the injured reserve, with the Saints now eliminated from playoff contention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Offensive struggles at USC?

The biggest headline of USC’s summer camp was the dislocated kneecap suffered by quarterback Mark Sanchez. It proved to be nothing more than a temporary concern, as he completed the season without missing a start. But even with a healthy Sanchez, the camp closed with suspicions. The Trojans struggled offensively, including being shutout in a scrimmage between first team units that drew national attention. John David Booty was gone, and the majority of the offensive line went with him. The fall was supposedly an offensive preview of things to come, and didn't appear promising. The final assessment tagged the Trojan offense as less than average. Was it a fair analogy, or was the lack of production simply masked by another element?

Although Mark Sanchez and Kristofer O’Dowd were named to the All Pac 10 first team offense, for the first time in several years, not a single Trojans offensive player is represented as a first team All-American. Sam Baker was the lone representative in 2007. The omissions may support the early speculations of a lack of firepower for the 2008 season, but it doesn’t translate to the offensive rankings.

The young offensive line meshed and exceeded all expectations. The receiving corps matured and was more productive than the previous year. The running game was consistent, though no single back achieved eye-catching numbers, with equal distribution among the stable. Mark Sanchez was more efficient than Georgia’s highly touted Matthew Stafford, yet not given nearly the same praise. And the Trojans finished with the 14th ranked offense in the country, higher than Florida. So tell me, what struggles?

As we now look back on yesterday, we can see a reason for those so called “struggles” of the summer. It wasn’t about the offense, as much as it was about the nation’s top defense on the other side of the ball. Sure, the Trojans didn’t score in one scrimmage, but 3 regular season opponents were also shutout. They opened the season allowing Virginia just one touchdown and Ohio State a single field goal, while the “struggling” offense was putting up 52 against the Hoos, and 28 (also added a defensive score) against the Buckeyes. If anything, penalties killed drives, which would be a struggle with discipline. If many of those penalties were eliminated, Trojans opponents would have been drubbed, and no one would ever question the offense. But unfortunately, the penalties occur, and we do.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Remember last summer’s playoff proposal?

Remember the playoff proposed and discussed over the summer? It was a 4-team format that gained little support, and the Pac 10 and Big 10 inevitably took the blame for this far from brilliant plan crashing and burning. Some college football fans were even disgusted that it was shot down, but obviously they didn’t pay attention to the details. Last summer’s submission was another pile of bullsh** being served on our plates. It wouldn’t be much different than the current system, with the exception of the word “playoff” falsely implied to something that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Controversy would not end with a 4 team playoff. It would only intensify. And in case you had that hunger, or probably can't remember, let's take a look at what they had on the menu, with the expectation that football fans would dig right in.

Keep in mind that computer equations would still select the playoff field, only expanding from 2 to 4. Based on the final BCS standings, No. 4 Alabama would be matched against No. 1 Oklahoma, and No. 3 Texas would play No. 2 Florida. All 4 are one-loss teams, but so are USC, Penn State, and Texas Tech. Utah and Boise State, the only undefeated programs, would not qualify for the playoff. 4 BCS conference champions would be banned from participation. Of the 11 FBS conferences, only 2 would be represented this season in the 4-team format. How do you tell the ACC, Big 10, Pac 10, and Big East that their seasons were irrelevant, and then send them off to bowls with the misperception that those games are still "relevant"?

Approving the summer’s proposal would only satisfy those fans gullible enough to feed on the false advertising. 4 programs representing the entire landscape of college football is hardly a playoff. Stretch it to the “Obama” 8, and if you’re Boise State, what’s the difference between that and now? The undefeated and No. 9 Broncos are still left out. 12 would be a more realistic starting point, and even that may not be enough. 12 of 32 teams are represented in the NFL playoffs, while the garbage laid on the NCAA table was 4 of 119 programs. And sadly, some people were buying it, just because the word “playoff” was existent.

You want to blame the Pac and Big 10 for creating a barricade for progress? You should thank them, along with all the others that rejected this nonsense, for their ability to smell the sh** on the path, before electing to walk that road.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rey Maualuga receives Heisman votes; places 9th

The Heisman Trophy is presented to college football’s most outstanding player, as it is defined. But when you view a list of winners, it’s obvious that it’s an offensive achievement award, with only one primarily defensive player (Charles Woodson, Michigan ’97) ever taking the hardware home. Continuing on it’s offensive pattern, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford took the Heisman home on Saturday night. But one defensive player appeared on the ballot and even received first place votes, and that was USC’s Rey Maualuga.

Maualuga is the 2008 recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented to the nation’s top defensive player. But when the results of the voting for the most prestigious award in all of sports were revealed, the Trojans middle linebacker appeared 9th in the final tally, receiving two first place Heisman votes. His total of 9 votes are far less than the 1726 earned by Bradford, but is one more than Michigan State running back Javon Ringer, and one less than Ball State quarterback Nate Davis. His 2 first place votes were more than Ringer and Davis gathered, and just one fewer than West Virginia’s Pat White and Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree.

*Sam Bradford, Oklahoma | 1st-300 2nd-315 3rd-196 total-1726

*Colt McCoy, Texas | 1st-266 2nd-288 3rd-230 total-1604

*Tim Tebow, Florida | 1st-309 2nd-207 3rd-234 total-1575

*Graham Harrell, Texas Tech | 1st-13 2nd-44 3rd-86 total-213

*Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech | 1st-3 2nd-27 3rd-53 total-116

*Shonn Greene, Iowa | 1st-5 2nd-9 3rd-32 total-65

*Patrick White, West Virginia | 1st-3 2nd-1 3rd-8 total-19

*Nate Davis, Ball State | 1st-0 2nd-1 3rd-8 total-10

*Rey Maualuga, USC | 1st-2 2nd-1 3rd-1 total-9

*Javon Ringer, Michigan State | 1st-1 2nd-0 3rd-5 total-8

*Source: Associated Press

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best Cheerleaders in the Pac 10?

The USC Song girls are a longstanding tradition of Trojans football. They are the ambassadors of Troy, appearing in nationwide events throughout the year, as no other pom squad can equal them in national recognition. But oddly enough, in a poll conducted by Scott Wolf, which rates the cheerleaders of the Pac 10, the Southern Cal rah-rahs failed to claim the top spot. Keep in mind that Scott Wolf blogs for the Los Angeles Daily News, and the primary focus is USC sports, yet the overwhelming poll favorites were the girls cheering for the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon currently holds 54 percent of the vote, with 536 readers selecting the Ducks. USC has 21 percent (166), barely edging UCLA (134) for the second position. With 2 votes, the Stanford Dollies sit at the bottom, along with the squads from Cal and Washington State.

The most popular cheer squad in America is not only being routed in the conference category, but also on their own blog. Are the Oregon Ducks so spectacular that even USC loyalists would bypass their own girls and check the box for Oregon? Even worse, on a Trojans blog, the Song Girls shouldn’t be in a fight to hold off rival UCLA. You can support your Song Girls by casting your vote here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Maualuga named Pac 10 defensive player of the year

For the second time in as many seasons, USC has claimed the Pac 10's "Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the year" award. With so many deserving on the nation’s top defensive unit, Rey Maualuga, the Trojan warrior in the middle, emerged as this year's winner. He follows Sedrick Ellis, who won the award in 2007. Maualuga, with a team leading 73 tackles, was also named “First team Pac 10” for the third time.

Other Trojans named "First Team Pac 10" include, Mark Sanchez, Kristofer O’Dowd, Fili Moala, Brian Cushing, Kevin Ellison, Taylor Mays, and David Buehler. Patrick Turner, Jeff Byers, Clay Matthews, and Kaluka Maiava appeared among the second team. Kevin Ellison was a unanimous first team selection, appearing on all coaches’ ballots. Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers was named Pac 10 offensive player of the year, and freshman of the year.

First Team Offense

QB Mark Sanchez, Jr., USC
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Fr., Oregon
RB Jahvid Best, So., California
WR Mike Thomas, Sr., Arizona
WR Sammie Stroughter, Sr., Oregon State
TE Rob Gronkowski, So., Arizona
OL Alex Mack, Sr., California
OL Andy Levitre, Sr., Oregon State
OL Max Unger, Sr., Oregon
OL Eben Britton, Jr., Arizona
OL Ben Muth, Sr., Stanford
OL Kristofer O'Dowd, So., USC

First Team Defense

DL Nick Reed, Sr., Oregon
DL Fili Moala, Sr., USC
DL Brian Price, So., UCLA
DL Victor Butler, Sr., Oregon State
LB Brian Cushing, Sr., USC
LB Rey Maualuga, Sr., USC
LB Zack Follett, Sr., California
DB Kevin Ellison, Sr., USC
DB Syd'Quan Thompson, Jr., California
DB Taylor Mays, Jr., USC
DB Jairus Byrd, Jr., Oregon
DB Patrick Chung, Sr., Oregon

Offensive Player of the Year: Jacquizz Rodgers, TB, Fr., Oregon State
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Rey Maualuga, MLB, Sr., USC
Freshman of the Year: Jacquizz Rodgers, TB, Oregon State
Coach of the Year: Mike Riley, Oregon State

Sunday, December 7, 2008

John Morton to replace Sarkisian?

With yesterday’s confirmation that Steve Sarkisian is the new head football coach for the University of Washington, it’s time to set sights on a replacement. To hear it from the horse’s mouth, Pete Carroll told the Los Angeles Daily news that receiver's coach John Morton is in line for the job, in an effort to maintain continuity. Before joining the Trojans' staff in 2007, Morton worked 8 years in the Oakland Raiders organization, and was an offensive assistant for the 2006 New Orleans Saints.

Former Trojan Brandon Hancock, now a local college football analyst for abc7 Los Angeles, threw the name Carl Smith on the table, representing another option. Smith was a member of the 2004 USC staff, before being hired as the offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005, and fired in January of 2007. He was replaced in Jacksonville by former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter. Pete Carroll also gave reference to Smith, who has visited USC in the past two weeks, and attended the final home game against Notre Dame.

It may be Smith’s job to accept or decline, if the choice is experience over an in-house hire. But it’s still early, so it will be interesting to see other names that may appear on the list of likely candidates, as the end of the college and NFL seasons will send more bodies to the unemployment line.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Trojans continue decade of dominance; defeat UCLA 28-7 to claim 7th Pac 10 crown

The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over HERE.

Isn’t this where we left off? USC begins the season as Pac 10 champions, and finishes just the same. It’s become as traditional as the rowdy mobs of Black Friday and the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. It’s an axiom, and just as Thanksgiving leads to Christmas, USC is winning a conference championship somewhere in between.

The task is hardly simplistic, as national critics make it out to be. They underestimate our Pac 10 brethren, judging based on the lack of traditional power programs, without seeing the quality brought to the field when facing the letters “U-S-C”. For weeks, Oregon State retained the conference lead, before surrendering their hopes last weekend. And with an open door, and a 28-7 victory over UCLA, the Trojans walk through as champions.

The UCLA Bruins welcomed USC and their symbolic home red jerseys to the Rose Bowl, and the Trojans made themselves at home. By rule, a penalty was accessed for garments worn, and as promised, UCLA called an immediate timeout to even the category and allow tradition to live. And for just a moment, it nearly appeared that we would have one of those hard fought battles from Coliseum yesteryears, but a USC fumble on the first series that led to the Bruins first and only score, would prove to be harmless, as the Trojans went back to work.

Defensive domination is the season’s theme, and Southern Cal claimed another victim. The Trojans allowed just 157 total yards and 7 first downs to their crosstown opponent. Kevin Craft earned just 89 yards passing, with wide receiver Dominique Johnson adding another 21 and a touchdown on a trick play that opened the game’s scoring. Bruin runners combined for just 47 yards, with drive after drive ending with UCLA in punt formation.

USC rushed for 209 yards, with Joe McKnight’s 99 leading the attack. Sanchez was the victim of some big hits, some coming late and drawing flags, but finished 18 0f 33 for 269 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Damian Williams was the recipient of one Sanchez touchdown pass, before leaving the game with a slightly separated shoulder. The early prognosis has Williams out 2 weeks, which would have him back in time for Penn State and the Rose Bowl.

The final BCS standings will be released Sunday at 5:20 pm PDT. USC in the national championship game is not one of the expectations, and we are more likely to see Florida playing Oklahoma. But don’t forget to keep your eye on the AP, as Texas still has an opportunity for an AP title, unless they are jumped in this week’s polls or Alabama fails to fall very far. Congratulations to the USC Trojans on their 7th consecutive Pac 10 championship, and 7th straight 11-win season. It’s a decade of dominance for Trojans football, and it continues on…


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Steve Sarkisian to coach Washington football

Despite the denial of reports, it appears that USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be named the new head coach of the Washington Huskies. Sark interviewed with the Huskies earlier this week, and agrees that he is the top candidate, but wouldn't offer more information. According to the ESPN news wire, sources close to the situation are confirming the hire.

If the reports prove to be factual, what does it all mean for USC? There will be a job opening in early January, as it will be the third offensive coordinator to leave the program in the past 4 years. As for Sarkisian, the Empire has developed a love/hate relationship. We sing praises when the Trojans are lighting up the scoreboard, but criticize when the offense appears stagnant. I may not always agree with the play calling, but over the years, Sarkisian has been a key piece to the Trojans development and success.

I wish him well, along with wishes for a speedy hire to replace him and avoid any ill effects on offensive recruiting. Who knows which names will compile the list of candidates, but I'd like to see Mike Martz at the top.

Fight On!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Preview | (5) USC at UCLA

The Trojans enter their second rivalry in as many weeks, as they continue to walk the BCS path. The Oregon State mishap last weekend cast a familiar fragrance of roses, and the men of Troy can solidify their 7th consecutive BCS bowl game with a victory over the rival Bruins on Saturday to clinch a birth. Failure to do so would create a 3-way tie in the Pacific 10, allowing the once disheartened Beavers their first January trip to Pasadena since 1965.

If we thought the Fighting Irish were a bad opponent, this week brings one worse. Charlie Weis and Notre Dame faced criticism for defeating just one program with a winning record this season, but UCLA hasn’t recorded a victory over any. The Bruins began their season with the shocking and unexpected Labor Day victory over Tennessee. But here in December, peering back on a season unfolded, that initial victory over the now 5-7 Vols appears neither shocking nor unexpected.

This is a battle between the “haves” and “have-nots”. It’s the battle of Los Angeles and the awarding of the Victory Bell. It’s a tradition renewed, with both programs prepared to take the same field in home colors. It’s one program eying a prize of Roses, and the other in a spoiler role. This is about pride and bragging rights. This is USC and UCLA.

“War Time! Let’s take it outside…”

BRUINS (4-7)
Last Week: L-Arizona State

If first year coach Rick Neuheisel and his dream team staff are looking to pinpoint a single reason for the team’s lack of success, look no farther than the list of inactive players sidelined by injuries. The greatest losses have come at the quarterback position, the key to any offense. Before the 2008 campaign ever began, the Bruins lost their named starter Patrick Cowan with a torn ACL. And before Ben Olsen could ever get comfortable in the replacement role, the Bruins lost a second quarterback with a broken bone in his foot. That left Kevin Craft, a junior college transfer, to lead the group. He responded by leading them to a 110th ranking in total offense, and a passing rank of 64.

The Bruins lost 3 of their last 4 games. And in that span, Craft has thrown 12 interceptions and no touchdowns. Though the hopes of the staff were to see continual improvement in the first year quarterback’s play, Craft has actually been progressively worse with each snap under center. With a failing offense that sputters, Dwayne Walker’s defense spends the bulk of the minutes on the field. Amazingly, the Bruins rank second in the nation when it comes to defending the pass, allowing less than 160 yards per game to the opposition. Not so amazing, they rank 86th in the nation defending the run, which may account to the low passing statistics, since the better weapons against the powder blue defense are the legs of your running back.

TROJANS (10-1)
Last Week: W-Notre Dame

The last time Southern Cal made the regular season trip to Pasadena, their title hopes were upended 13-9 by a Bruins team with the perfect defensive plan. Last year in the Coliseum, it was a return to the norm, with UCLA playing the more familiar role of punching bag. The team USC will face on Saturday is less talented than the previous two, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Trojans record another shutout.

The Bruins play into every Trojan strength. They can’t stop the run, and USC averages over 220 yards per game. They appear impressive against the pass, but the Trojans are the most efficient passing unit in the nation. The 110th total offense versus the nation’s top defense is clearly a mismatch, and the Bruins can’t protect the quarterback, having been sacked 35 times already this year. Just look at it from this perspective, Notre Dame was a better team, and they managed just 3 points and 4 first downs last week.

Analysis: UCLA assembled a dream team coaching staff, but they don’t have the talent to reap the rewards. Both Norm Chow and Dwayne Walker know the Pete Carroll system well, but their current roster is helpless against this machine. This is a hate filled rivalry, but unfortunate for the Bruins, it’s the cardinal and gold positioned to disgrace and embarrass their opponent.

All Time Series: 42-28-7
Streak: Trojans won 1

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hazelton transferring out of the program

A forgotten man in the USC offense is wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, who was the Trojans second leading receiver in 2007. One of his most memorable moments last year was the spectacular one handed grab in the opener against Idaho. The photos circulated news wires and tape rolled on television highlight reels, and Hazelton appeared to be a rising star and future household name of USC football. But then came the injuries that kept him sidelined, and in all the efforts to make it back, he saw his field time decline as others rose to become full time performers.

On Tuesday, Pete Carroll signed the papers and granted Hazelton’s release, and a new destination is unknown. Hazelton is originally from New York, and the man that recruited him to the Empire, Lane Kiffin, is now down the coast from his home state, coaching in Tennessee. The Volunteers may get consideration, and it may be a perfect fit.

Former Trojan Steve Smith robbed at gunpoint

The current NFL focus is on the Giants’ Plaxico Burress for accidently shooting himself in the leg while out on the town. The receiver now faces criminal charges and was suspended by his team earlier today. Since the incident occurred, there has been nothing but harsh criticism over players carrying concealed weapons and their reasons for it. But one reason is evident, as the wire service today disclosed that Burress’ teammate and former USC Trojan, Steve Smith, was robbed at gunpoint last week.

One of the most common criticisms, and most idiotic, is that those participating in professional sports should not be spending the wee hours in nightclubs, which in essence is saying they shouldn’t live like anyone else. Supposedly, this is the solution for athletes avoiding troubles outside of the playing surface. But just as the tragic shooting death of Redskins Sean Taylor squashed those beliefs, after being gunned down in his own home, so does the recent robbery of Steve Smith. Not that Burress had knowledge of the incident, which prompted him to carry a weapon for his own safety, but the targeting of celebrities is neither new nor an uncommon concept.

Smith wasn’t at a nightclub when he was robbed. He became a victim in front of his own home. Reportedly, he had just arrived by a chauffeur driven car to his residence, when an assailant came from behind with a gun and demanded all his valuables, to which he complied. Smith notified local police of the incident, but no arrests have been made.

Who will those certain members of the media blame now? There is no wrongful act, unless they would like to dissect his being outside of his home, which is just as ridiculous as everything else. Celebrities can not exist in a protective box, because that isn’t really living at all. Those with the wealth will always be common targets for others looking for the quick “come up”. At some point, we will eventually learn to fault the direction our society has taken, instead of faulting celebrity victims of crimes for their whereabouts. If it were you or I falling victim to crime, we rightfully fault the criminal. If you are a professional athlete, we wrongfully fault the lifestyle, and the comings and goings attached to it. Isn't that giving immunity to the person holding the weapon and shouting demands?

It is pretty embarrassing for Plaxico to unload one from the chamber into his own leg, but I can also see why he would carry a weapon. I often think back to the outcome of the Sean Taylor robbery, and wonder if the result would have been different, if he had a loaded weapon in hand.

bRUINS surrender the fort

The idea of USC wearing their home darks for the annual crosstown rivalry game with UCLA has been kicked around for over a year now. When Rick Neuheisel became the new head football coach in Westwood, it became more of a possibility, as he played in those early games when the coliseum hosted both home teams. But as I mentioned nearly a year ago, in allowing this to happen, Neuheisel would be giving the Trojans the keys to the house.

Both teams wearing home uniforms are a reflection of old Coliseum traditions. Allowing this to happen at the Rose Bowl would be nothing more than coming to the realization that you are the ugly stepchild renting space in a venue across town, and must succumb to the wishes of the rightful owner. Rose Bowl history doesn’t show Bruins and Trojans together in darks. Rose Bowl history shows USC owning the house. 22 times the Trojans have emerged the victor in January Rose Bowl games, more than any other. Wearing the colors to represent their home isn’t so much new, as it is proper and long time coming. But honestly, if you’re a Bruin, how and why would you allow this to happen? If anything, it shows a monopoly, something they claimed to be over.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Big Payday in Cassel’s future

It wasn’t long ago that Matt Cassel appeared to be an unwanted man. In the final year of his contract, his future with the New England Patriots was in doubt. There were camp competitions and trade rumors, and Bean Town fans were disappointed that he overcame both to make the final roster cut. Then came the unthinkable, Tom Brady collapses on the turf and his season comes to an abrupt end. It was New England’s worst nightmare, as the hopes of their season suddenly weighed on a former USC replacement player that never started a single game.

Cassel is an example of how quickly things can change, and proof that patience is a virtue. Inheriting a situation where failure appeared imminent, and expectations were low, he excelled and succeeded. His timely ascent brings about a reversal of fortune, and the previously unwanted has created whispers and rumors of a possible Tom Brady trade. The Patriots have a future decision to make, and it will ultimately come with a price.

The Pats have choices. They can play for today and allow Matt Cassell to enter the open market at season’s end. That would rest their hopes on speculation that Brady would be healthy enough to start in ’09, and return as the Brady of old. Or they can go with security, slapping Cassel with the franchise tag and preserving him for another season. To franchise Matt Cassel is to give him $14 million next year, which is the total amount Brady will earn over the next two seasons.

Inevitably, it will come down to egos. If arrogance leads them to believe they can develop any quarterback in their system and make him an NFL star, this will be the last time we see Cassel in a Patriots uniform. If they look towards the future, seeing a 32 year old Brady, he may be locked into New England for many years. Either way, a big payday is heading Matt’s way. If not from his current employer, there are plenty of other franchises hungry for a young quarterback, and the unfortunate injury to Brady has unexpectedly increased Cassel’s value. In fact, here in 2008, he’s more valuable than Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, the two Heisman winning quarterbacks that kept him on the Southern Cal bench. Crazy, isn't it?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Irish show little fight in 38-3 drubbing by USC

In the spirit of rivalry, the Irish came into the Coliseum fighting. Unfortunately for the Domers, pre-game skirmishes aren’t recorded and don’t appear on stat sheets. Though Notre Dame appeared pumped and fearless in an early scuffle that led to the two teams being separated before the game ever kicked off, they had no punches to throw on the negative side of a 38-3 Trojans rout.

From the first series of the game, and carrying to the end, Charlie Weis proved there’s no “genius” in his coaching or offense. For four quarters the Trojan domination made the visitors appear no better than the two Pac 10 programs playing in the state of Washington. The Irish may have come in at 6-5, playing the 107th ranked strength of schedule in the country, but Pete Carroll gave them a better measure of their so called improvement from last season, by revealing that nothing has changed. Clear the smoke from their schedule and you see Notre Dame outscored in the last two meeting 76-3 by their biggest rival. That isn’t South Bend progression. That’s a program idle in futility.

To put their misery in perspective, the Irish failed to achieve a single first down in the first 30 minutes of play, and 45 minutes passed before they established one. Their offense totaled just 9 first half yards, 11 passing and -2 rushing. They finished the game with 91 total yards, 4 first downs, and 3 points on the scoreboard. The field goal appeared as an act of desperation, with Weis refusing to be shutout by USC in consecutive years, and for the 4th time versus Irish opponents in the past two seasons.

It was a homecoming for Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who lost his first game in the state of California, after going 46-0 at Oaks Christian High School. The former Parade All-American went just 11 of 22 for 41 yards and 2 interceptions. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Mark Sanchez, also a former high school All-American, connected 21 times on 32 attempts for 267 yards and two scores. Sanchez threw an interception on the Trojans’ first series of the game, and another in the end zone in the second half, on a first and goal play that would have increased the swelling of the Irish’s black eye.

USC rushed for 175 yards, including a 55 yard first half burst for a touchdown by Joe Mcknight. 8 different Trojans caught passes in the blowout, with Damian Williams’ 8 receptions for 76 yards and a score leading the way. Carroll cleared his bench in the fourth quarter, and the determined Weis left his starters on the field for further embarrassment. Be it starters or reserves, the Irish hit a Trojan wall of defense, and have now gone 8 consecutive quarters without a touchdown against Southern Cal. The victory is the 7th straight for USC in the series.

With Oregon defeating Oregon State in Corvallis, The Trojans now lead the Pac 10 and can earn a Rose Bowl birth and automatic BCS bowl bid with a victory over UCLA in next week’s season finale.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lane Kiffin headed to the SEC

ESPN.com is reporting that former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has accepted a deal in principle to become the new head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. The 33 year old Kiffin left Southern California in 2007 to coach the Oakland Raiders. He was terminated on September 30, 2008, after less than two years in a Raiders organization that made him the youngest coach in their history. Lane is the son of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Phillip Fulmer coached the Tennessee Volunteers for 16 seasons, winning one National Championship. In the midst of poor team performances in the ’08 campaign, and one of the worst seasons in Tennessee’s history, he was forced to resign, and will step down at the end of the season. Kiffin’s knowledge of recruiting hotbeds, having worked as recruiting coordinator at USC, may have proved the difference in his selection over other candidates.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lendale White rumbles over hapless Lions

Lendale White doesn’t fear a microphone or hesitate to voice is displeasures. But of course, we already knew that, from his days at USC. As any other poster boy for disgruntled players would be, White was vocal in last weekend’s post-game interview that followed a 34-13 loss to the Jets, a game that gave the once perfect Titans their only blemish on the season. He was frustrated in carrying the ball just 3 times in 4 quarters of play, and alerted listeners and his coaching staff of his feelings. By midweek, most wondered if White had allowed his mouth to stuff him into Jeff Fisher’s doghouse, since it’s never a good idea to air dissensions between player’s and a coaching staff. Instead, Fisher said the topic had been discussed and there were no ill feelings between himself and White. And if anyone had speculations that Fisher’s statements were an attempt to cover up an incident possibly boiling in the Tennessee locker room, that was all squashed on Thursday, as both White and the Titans went back to the formula for success, drubbing the Lions 47-10.

Against the Lions, White ran for 106 yards on 23 carries, with a long of 25. He also contributed 2 touchdowns to tie Atlanta’s Michael Turner’s league leading 13. White had been the league leader in the category, until the lack of opportunities last weekend shut him out. Rookie Chris Johnson added another 125 yards on the ground against the hapless and helpless Lions, giving evidence of the franchise in Detroit being the NFL’s biggest turkey on Thanksgiving, and likely the worst team I’ve witnessed on a professional field. How bad are the Detroit Lions? Even Vince Young completed a 57 yard pass in this game, entering in relief of Kerry Collins.

Last week, Woody Paige of ESPN's "Around the horn" called White "another Denver loud mouth". He also said his mouth is the reason he fell in the NFL draft. I'd have to disagree with the latter. It was a question of work ethics that caused the slide. If it was about being a loud mouth, players like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Chad Johnson wouldn't be worth much in a free agent market, and obviously they are. Lendale White may not be in the best shape, but there's no denying his production on the football field, something the teams picking before the Titans failed to foresee.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Preview | Notre Dame at (5) USC

Depending on the articles read and lists compiled, several rivalries will appear as the “greatest”. Be it the bias of the author and his or her loyalties holding weight, difference of opinion will bring about a different order. But without a doubt, USC and Notre Dame is the greatest intersectional rivalry in the nation, because of the simple fact that they share no conference and exist in separate regions of the country. Even so, the Trojans and Fighting Irish will collide on a football field for the 8oth time, in a series only discontinued by world war, and never because one program or the other declined in prowess.

We can all give our opinions of great rivalries, and even my own bias will surface. But I challenge anyone, and everyone, to give me another college football rivalry where the programs combine for greater history and achievements on a football field. The Irish and Trojans have amassed 23 national championships and 14 Heisman Trophy winners. The rivalry produced more All-Americans and NFL draft selections than any other. These college gridiron greats have gone on to excel on professional fields, yielding more Pro-Bowl selections and members of the NFL Hall of Fame than any other rivalry can boast. The names are as legendary as the coaches, and each visitor will grasp that legend by touring the opponent’s trophy halls, before ever taking the field. Today’s players are an extension of yesterday, preparing to gallop with ghosts on a modern surface. They are new faces aligned with old, each looking to carve their names aside rivalry greats. They are young men hauling the pride of generations past, existing beneath the Golden Dome and behind the Walls of Troy. It's more than just one game in a college football season. It is college football. It's USC and Notre Dame.

Last Week: L-Syracuse

Notre Dame enters the 80th meeting as a program in trouble. Even with high expectations, the Irish have struggled. They’ve defeated just one program with a winning record (Navy), and faced the embarrassment last week of losing to an 8-loss team (Syracuse) for the first time in their long history. Charlie Weis promised 9 wins in 2008 and he’s currently stuck on 6, with only their greatest rival remaining. It’s a promise he couldn’t keep, and even more unpredictable was that the Irish would be pelted with snowballs in their own stadium, and by their own fans. We have a coach and a program desperate for a quality win to legitimize the season and possibly save a job.

Last week: Bye

Southern California will be the best team Notre Dame has faced on the '08 slate. And to make it more difficult for the Domers, it’s a hungry bunch, still hoping for pieces to fall that would launch them into the National Championship game. If there were ever a game for style points, a nationally televised prime time affair with a storied program is it. Some say there’s that “rivalry” factor, where the underdog will excel and shock the world. But though the Trojans are known for sleeping on teams that are average or worse, they’re always fully awake for Notre Dame. This is a USC farewell to seniors playing their last home game in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It’s a senior class that has never lost to the Irish, and looking to continue the trend. Notre Dame was shutout 38-0 in South Bend last year, and will face an improved Trojans defense on Saturday night.

Analysis: It's no secret that each team that somehow managed to slow the Trojans were either equipped with a productive rushing attack or defensively found a way to limit the USC stable of backs from consistently chewing chunks of yardage. Notre Dame provides neither, as the Domers rank 91st in the country running the ball, and 58th defending it. Unless there is that "luck of the Irish", it can get ugly, as in previous games played in this series and venue. In the last 3 trips to the Coliseum, the Irish have been outscored 129-47.

All Time Series: Irish lead 42-32-5
Streak: Trojans won 6

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beavs may be playing without the Quizz

Oregon State heads into one of the most important games in the school’s history on Saturday, and they may be playing without a key contributor. Jacquizz Rodgers, who fans of the Empire know very well, could sit out the “uncivil war” against Oregon with a sprained shoulder. That shoulder was injured early in the first quarter of the Arizona game that showed the Wildcats less than 2 minutes away from victory and the Trojans nearly sniffing roses.

Rodgers’ performance against USC is the difference between the Trojans being No. 1 in the country and currently sitting 5th. He followed his 186 yard performance in the big upset by continuing to excel in conference play to lead the Pac 10 in rushing, and rank 12th overall in the nation. His probable absence from the Beavers roster this Saturday may heighten Oregon’s chances of winning their in-state rivalry, as well as increase Southern Cal's possibility of clinching the conference title and a Rose Bowl birth.

Vegas: USC and Florida best in the nation

It’s no secret that Las Vegas oddsmakers will often contradict positions in college polls. You’ll see that difference of opinion each time the Vegas favorite is lower ranked than the opponent. I can’t say that one determination is more precise than the other, because even those in Sin City will underestimate opponents. This is always evident in Pac 10 spreads, where USC is often a heavy favorite against conference brethren, but shows a lesser spread versus out of conference foes. The truth is revealed annually, with the Trojans having more of a struggle within the 10, but for some reason the gamblers still can’t see or believe it to be a fluke. In an interesting article by Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, he points out that Vegas has USC and Florida as the nation’s best programs. I’m certainly not one to disagree. He also calls the Big 12 “overrated”, thoughts I’ve often had of my own. And when you break it down by the numbers, you can see why such a claim can be made.

Defense wins championships. And as I’ve said several times, and Hayes points out, the Big 12 doesn’t have any. Here is the list he gives of the past national champions and their defensive rankings:

2007: LSU (3rd)
2006: Florida (6th)
2005: Texas (10th)
2004: USC (6th)
2003: LSU (1st)
2002: Ohio State (23rd)
2001: Miami (6th)
2000: Oklahoma (8th)

Think back to 2005, when USC had one of the most explosive offenses college football had ever seen. Now think about the championship game against Texas, and what led to the end results. All season long, the defense was the Achilles heel. Even before the Trojans reached that game it was already said that if USC pulled off the victory, it would be the lowest ranked defense ever to win the BCS championship. I believe that USC defense ranked somewhere in the 30s. ESPN may have ran a segment trying to proclaim the 2005 Trojans the “best college football team ever”, but anyone who has followed enough to compare would tell you the 2004 squad was better, because of the defense.

Haye’s then paints today’s picture in this comment:

"Only once this decade has a national champion finished lower than 10th in the nation in total defense, and that team (Ohio State, 2002) was No. 2 in scoring defense.
Now, a look at the Big 12's big five in total defense this season: Texas (53rd), Oklahoma (56th), Texas Tech (74th), Oklahoma State (76th), Missouri (89th).

And now, the four other major players in the race for the BCS championship game: Alabama (3rd), Florida (9th), USC (2nd) and Penn State (4th).

Something ain't right, people. That's all I'm saying.

And for those who say the offense is limited on the other side, we give you these national scoring offense rankings: Florida (3rd), Penn State (10th), USC (12th), Alabama (30th).

The hype of the Big 12 is all about offense, but is it really that great? Their success may be a reflection of the conference’s poor defenses. Oklahoma’s lowest output of the season was 35 points, which they achieved twice (Texas, TCU). The rest of their games are all 40 plus, including 4 consecutive performances of 50 points or more against their Big 12 mates. In September, they defeated Washington 55-14, a team the Trojans defeated 56-0. Texas scored 56 points on Missouri, and their offense was said to be “rolling”. I guess people forgot that even a bad Illinois team hung 42 on the Tigers defense in the season opener, as they also forgot Texas Tech only leading 35-24 after three quarters with FCS Eastern Washington.

I’m not going to say the Big 12 is completely overrated, but I’m pretty sure the offenses are. How can I not be skeptical? In 2004, it was supposed to be the “explosive” offense of the Jason White and Adrian Peterson led Sooners against the defense of Southern Cal. Defense wins championships. Final score…Trojans 55, Sooners 19.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Penn State wants USC

Now that Penn State is locked into January’s Rose Bowl, they have the luxury of formulating opinions on possible opponents. Unless Oregon State stumbles this weekend, the Nittany Lions are looking at a rematch of an earlier season College Station rout of the Beavers. OSU is playing better football these days, but Penn State receiver, Deon Butler, has already indicated that he’d like to pass on a second meeting. "They're a great football team, don't get me wrong, so if they deserve to be there, they'll be there. But obviously if you go to a bowl game, you want to play someone that you haven't played all season," says Butler. If you don’t want Oregon State, you’re asking and hoping for USC, with the Trojans being the only other possibility.

Ohio State wanted the exposure of playing USC, so they were added to the regular season schedules of ’08 and ’09. The September meeting only exposed the Buckeyes as a fraud. In the last 3 Rose Bowls against Big 10 opponents, The Trojans have outscored the Midwestern boys 109-49, and let’s not forget the thrashing of Iowa in the Orange Bowl. In the spirit of accomplishment and excitement of a conference title, you may call out the big boys on the block. But when the dust settles in coming weeks, and you descend from that cloud, what you’re asking for will become clear. With Branch not wanting Oregon State, he’s asking to travel to Southern California to play USC in the postseason, and in their house. The Bruins may rent that space for home games, but the Trojans own the joint. For a program celebrating one of the best season's in recent years, that's a lot to ask for. It's an invitation to the woodshed, with the Trojans holding the paddle.

The Lions’ receiver said it’s about not playing the same team twice in the same season. I’m sure the Buckeyes would have loved the Rose Bowl invite, to have another crack at the Trojans and an opportunity for redemption. If Penn State and USC opened the season, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind closing it the same. It’s all about being on the grandest stage and playing the biggest programs. His statement isn’t about playing a team for a second time, and his thoughts are likely shared by the Rose Bowl committee. It’s about Oregon State not being USC, the biggest test for any program, and one of the biggest financial draws in the country. And of course, I'm sure the Beavers wouldn't care who the Rose Bowl opponent would be, considering the program hasn't played in that game since 1964. Just making it there would be special.

Friday, November 21, 2008

BYU-Utah and the Trojan effect

USC’s final destination remains up in the air, and just as each weekend can potentially create a new path, this weekend will offer more road paving results. One annual rivalry that meant nothing to anyone outside of the Beehive State now looms large for programs anticipating at-large BCS bids. Trojan fans will be scoreboard watching, with Oregon State traveling to Tuscon, as a Beavers loss would end all speculation and solidify USC’s appearance in the Rose Bowl. But if the Wildcats falter, a game played in Utah can weigh heavy in deciding USC’s fate.

When BYU and Utah square off in Saturday’s battle of "church versus state", the end result could have a major impact on the BCS landscape. Mid-Majors need only to finish among the BCS top 12 to gain eligibility for an at-large bid. The current standings show two programs among the top 10, undefeated Boise State (9) and Utah (7). The BCS party has never been crashed by two mid-majors in the same season, but never before did we have two programs eligible. As it is, no team outside of a BCS conference has ever played in a BCS bowl game unless they were undefeated, and we are set up to potentially have two with records unblemished.

As much as the thought is unlikely that two bowl committees would select mid-major teams to appear in their games, the possibility remains. The only guarantees in the BCS are the top two spots in the championship game, and automatic entry for BCS conference winners. The rest is open for invitation, which is why we saw a 3-loss Illini team play in last year’s Rose Bowl, as well as Kansas receiving the Orange Bowl bid, though they weren’t represented in the Big 12 championship game and lost to a Missouri team that was snubbed.

BYU has an opportunity to remove this potential thorn in the Trojans’ side by defeating Utah in the in-state “Holy War”. The Cougars, currently sitting at No. 14 in the BCS, may crack the top 12 with a victory, but would more importantly drop Utah below the magic mark. There’s a big difference between BYU being among the 12, in comparison to the Utes, because the Cougars’ lone loss to TCU will cripple them in at-large discussions. Saturday’s outcome will be highly important in the Mountain West Conference and the state of Utah, and equally important to one loss BCS programs vying for a birth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Neuheisel believes fewer kids watching football today

Appearing on the FOX radio show, in a conversation sparked about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb not knowing the NFL overtime rules, UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel said it was surprising to hear, but gave a reason for it. His belief is that fewer kids are watching football today, compared to his generation. The Bruins coach says, “There's just too many other things they can do with their social time. Video games have taken a large majority of that. And I'm not sure you've ever seen a tie in a video game!” Although his take is somewhat sensible, I won’t agree with it.

When comparing today to yesterday, you see how widespread the game of football has become, in regard to media coverage. Yesterday, a televised Thursday game was only a Thanksgiving Day occurrence. Today, there isn’t a single day of the week where football isn’t being broadcast nationally at one level or another. Yesterday, if you missed a game, you could only read about it or catch highlights. Today, you use the DVR and record several games to be viewed several times over. College conferences now have their own networks or are contractually tied to others, so even if a game wasn’t televised live in your local area, you can catch a replay later in the week. If you’re looking to view it live, ESPN 360 or CBS Sports Line will capture the feed and display it on your computer monitor.

Today’s kids know more about football than their father’s before them, which is why athletes continue to improve with time. They know more about training and diets. They imitate their gridiron heroes (from mannerism, dress, and movement) through images provided in high definition. They know all about contracts and how combine results increase your earnings, as hold-outs and signings are now just a part of daily television conversations.

If there are players in the NFL that don’t know the overtime rules, it’s not because they didn’t watch enough football. It’s because ties don’t occur that often. As it is, they could have watched every game for the past five years without witnessing a tie. Maybe Neuheisel’s kids aren’t watching football, because that game isn’t being played in Westwood. After all, the best chance they have to see their dad lead UCLA to a National Championship is to hand him a joystick and insert a disk.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

About the Song Girl wearing burnt orange...

In a tip from Trojanwire that led me to a story at Busted Coverage, Natalie Nelson is again revisited. Natalie, the former USC Song girl now married to Ryan Kalil, became infamous for appearing to cheer for the wrong team in the 2006 Rose Bowl game, by raising her arms to celebrate a Texas touchdown over USC. Now she's reappeared in Halloween photos, and she's clad in a Texas Longhorns football jersey. The photos are supposedly from Halloween of 2006, and I don't see any reason to blow them up to something bigger than they are. As pointed out by Scott Wolf, another Song Girl in the photo is also wearing a UCLA football jersey, so Natalie doesn't stand alone.

My take is this, Halloween is a day of horror. It's a time when people will dress according to the holiday's theme, and often the most hideous costume will win most contests. For females, they can be both hideous and sexy at the same time. What's the most horrifying thing you'd ever imagine a Song Girl in? How about uniforms of our enemies? As you can see in the group photo, a majority of USC's latest foes have been covered. Isn't it scary?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jim Harbaugh and the “spread” offense

So, what was that sh*t Jim Harbaugh pulled at the end of the Saturday's game? On the negative end of a 45-17 blowout, the Stanford coach calls a timeout with less than 30 seconds to play and his team deep in Trojan territory. His action sparked a chorus of boos from his home crowd, who were aware that there isn’t a 28 point play in football, so the end result was obvious. Harbaugh then sends out the field goal unit, and the smiling and bewildered Pete Carroll decides to “ice” him with a timeout. Maybe it was during the timeout that Jimmy realized that 3 points wouldn’t beat the Vegas spread of 24, so he sends his offense back on the field for one last desperate attempt for 6. His wish was granted, as Stanford scored one final touchdown with no ticks remaining on the clock, making the final score 45-23. Was it a big middle finger to Vegas or was the Stanford coach upset with USC running it in for another touchdown on their final possession with under two minutes to play?

He really can’t fault the Trojans, considering they ran 10 consecutive rushing plays to chew the clock. If Stanford can’t stop the run, knowing it’s coming, then fault your own unit. If anything, it would have been more embarrassing to take a knee, giving possession back to Stanford, which would be football’s version of the mercy rule. If you caught any of the post game action, you can read more into it. It appears that after last years fluke, Harbaugh really thought his team could compete and defeat the Trojan war machine again, and he behaved like a spoiled child that didn’t get his way. It showed in the post game handshake (or lack thereof) by the coaches, and the fact that Harbaugh said, “We knew USC was coming to play and our team came out and played a better first half”. A better first half? Is that a moral victory? That’s someone reaching for a positive, when they believed they were the better program.

As for Pete Carroll’s comments on the crazy ending, “He can do whatever he wants. I don’t care.” If Harbaugh is still coaching Stanford when they visit the Coliseum next year, I think we'll see how much Pete Carroll cares or not, and it won't be pretty. This is a coaching rivalry that was sparked a year ago, even before Stanford's victory, and it doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Trojans score 28 unanswered in 45-23 victory over Stanford

The 2008 revenge game in Palo Alto turned into a story of two halves. Stanford opened the game looking very much the part of the upset minded team they were last year. Playing to a scoreboard tie, and outplaying the Trojans on the field, the Cardinal were a confident bunch. But second half adjustments proved to be the difference maker, as USC clamped down defensively and the offense poured it on for a 45-23 victory.

The first half saw a defensive breakdown. Tavita Pritchard found a gap and ran 40 yards downfield on Stanford’s first drive to set up a Toby Gerhart touchdown. The Trojans looked to strike back, with Ronald Johnson returning the kickoff the Stanford 22, but 3 consecutive incompletions left Southern Cal to settle for a field goal. USC found running difficult in the opening half, and went the entire first quarter without achieving a first down. Meanwhile, missed tackles allowed Stanford to rumble up and down the field, and by halftime, 17 points were on the board. The Trojans offense produced just one touchdown in the first 30 minutes, but the specials teams continued to take advantage of Stanford’s poor coverage. C.J. Gable capped the first half highlights with a 93 yard kick return for a touchdown.

Only one thing remained consistent in the second half, and that was the special teams play. USC received the kickoff to open the third quarter, and Ronald Johnson returned it 50 yards to the Stanford 46. Penalties killed that drive and forced a punt, but Stanford never appeared to be the threatening presence they were before the break.. USC eventually rolled off 28 unanswered points, before the Cardinal scored a meaningless touchdown with no time remaining on the game clock.

Mark Sanchez went 11 of 17 for 136 and 2 touchdowns. Stafon Johnson’s 115 yards led the rushing attack, with 3 Trojans rushing for at least 72 yards, and producing 282 total yards on the ground. Stanford’s Toby Gerhart became just the second back this season to crack the century mark against the Trojans defense. He finished with 101 yards on 23 carries, achieving the bulk of it in the first half.

This was Stanford’s first home loss of 2008, and they are still one win shy of bowl eligibility. It’s called a revenge game, but it really doesn’t have that feel. I guess for this victory to be sweeter, and actually be vengeance, the win would actually have to derail Stanford from something special. The Cardinal may end up in a bowl game, but that’s about it. USC saved themselves any embarrassment of losing a second time to their northern foes, but unlike Stanford’s victory last year, it’s not like the loser was knocked from BCS title contention.

Trojan hoops opens with 78-55 win over UCI

USC officially tipped off the 2008 basketball season with a 78-55 victory over UC Irvine at the Galen Center. The men of Troy displayed little firepower in the first half, but a solid defensive effort sent them to the locker room leading 35-29. The offense finally got on track in the second, with Dwight Lewis leading the way with a game high 18 points. Taj Gibson added 17, including 3 consecutive buckets in a USC run that enabled the Trojans to pull away.

DeMar DeRozen scored 14 points in his first college game, going 6 of 11 from the field, and 3 of 4 from the line. The Anteaters fall to 1-5 all time against USC, and are winless against the Pac 10 since 2005.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lendale White fires back at Jones-Drew

Former UCLA Bruins running back Maurice Jones-Drew, currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars, sounded off a month ago about the differences between USC and UCLA. He gave the typical “University of Spoiled Children” remark that is a haters favorite, and said he would want his kids to enroll on the campus in Westwood, because it produces a better education and people.

"To go to a great school like UCLA to get that degree where kids at other schools might become ... and this is no knock...you go to UCLA, you're guaranteed a job at NASA pretty much. That's what happens. You go to UCLA, you might become the next president. It's up there like that. Another great thing about UCLA, they don't lower their standards for their athletes. It was always the same as the regular students. I assume at USC they do other things like pay 'em. But they hold them up to the same standards and when you get like that it does scare some kids away."

For Mr. Drew to even focus on NASA, his Bruins education must have excluded factual points, such as the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, having a Master of Science degree that reads “The University of Southern California”. As for equal treatment of students and athletes, maybe he should check into why Jim Harrick was forced out of the UCLA basketball program. It seems to have had something to do with “false expense accounts”. And as Harrick moved on to coach Georgia basketball, his son was caught paying the phone bill of a Bulldogs player, and providing “fail-free” exams for members of the team attending his classes. And let’s not forget that before Sean Higgins was winning the National Championship for Michigan Hoops, he had a signed letter of intent to attend UCLA. The Bruins weren’t going to allow him out of the commitment, until Higgins threatened to start singing about recruiting gifts.

This week, Lendale White fired back at Jones-Drew, when asked what would happen if his kid wanted to attend UCLA.

“I probably would ground him until he realized that that’s the worst grief you would ever imagine about going to play. You know, powder blue. I guess enough said. Their powder blue uniforms and that ugly mustard color. I don’t know.

“UCLA sucks. It’s the worst school you could ever go to if you were a football player. You know, they never win anything, and SC dominates them, so … you gotta make your choice. If you want to get dominated by your crosstown rival where they can come on your campus and take your girlfriends and stuff, then you take that decision.“

In other words, Mr. Jones-Drew, your program and faculty may not see a difference between an athlete and student (according to you), but your co-eds are star struck, recognizing the rare sighting of a football superstar on the Bruins’ campus, and giving the cardinal and gold the umm…special treatment.

Here’s the audio, enjoy!