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.