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.

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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?