Before I get started let me say that it pains me to jump on LSU. After my experiences in Baton Rouge for last year's UA game and meeting the many great people associated with that school (i.e., The Krew from Mamoux), this is the last thing I want to do.
Moreover, you're probably asking yourself what would possess an Arizona sportswriter to be so fired up about defending USC in the first place? Well, this is not just about the Trojans. This is about the Pac-10. This is about family and just like in real families, you can pick on your brother, sister, cousin, nephew and niece all you want but when an outsider pops off towards one of your own, it's time to circle the wagons.
Plus, despite the risk of burning any good will with LSU fans, or anyone else for that matter, I must stay true to the spirit of this column. So, if you're ready to do this then so am I.
On your marks, get set, Geaux!
Last week LSU's head football coach, Les Miles, pulled no punches in expressing his desire to play USC for the national title six months from now. With most college football preseason magazines listing the Trojans and Tigers as their top two teams, you can't blame Miles for stating the obvious. However, Miles may have gone too far with some of his other comments. Specifically, Miles was quoted as saying of the Trojans, "I can tell you this, that they have a much easier road to travel. They're going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkley, Stanford – some real juggernauts – and they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title [game]. I would like that path for us."
Hey, who wouldn't like that path coach? Only have to win a game or two. That would be easy. Oh, wait. I get it. You're being sarcastic. Well guess what, while being sarcastic you're also being dimwitted. I know SEC fans typically live in a bubble, refusing to give credit to any other football conference in the country, but it's clear that Miles hadn't received the memo that the Pac-10 is picked by many to be the second toughest conference in the nation in 2007.
I should note that the SEC is predicted to be the toughest and in my opinion, deservedly so.
Now, I understand LSU's general frustration toward Southern Cal but their anger toward the Trojans is really unwarranted. After all, it's not like USC chose to shy away from playing LSU in the 2003-04 Title Game. That whole mess was the BCS' fault. Further, USC easily beat Michigan that year and then walloped Oklahoma 55-19 the following year so you can't make the argument that the Trojans didn't belong in either championship. If Tigers fans want to hate someone, hate Oklahoma. Second, as one who follows and covers Pac-10 sports, I can say with absolute conviction that Miles better watch out what he wishes for because he just might get it.
What I mean is does he and his players really think that the Trojans are afraid of the Tigers? Does he think USC is afraid of anyone? One thing USC has proven in the Pete Carroll Era is they will play anyone, anywhere, anytime. In fact, Carroll is the Lute Olson of college football. Case in point, in 2002 USC scheduled games against four ranked non-conference opponents (Auburn, Colorado, Kansas State and Notre Dame). In 2003, the Men of Troy traveled to Auburn and pasted the Tigers 23-0. The following year, USC played Virginia Tech on a neutral field. In 2005, their non-conference schedule was easy as evidenced by their 70-17 home win over Arkansas. In 2006, they beat both Nebraska and Arkansas but this time the game against the Razorbacks was much closer (50-14). The hilarious thing about that score was the Razorbacks went on to finish with an SEC record of 7-1, representing the West Division in their Conference Championship.
In 2007, USC will travel to Nebraska in the second game of the season. They also play road games at Washington, Notre Dame, Oregon, California and Arizona State.
If you were to believe Coach Miles, you'd naturally be thinking that USC's upcoming slate is a cakewalk. Well, according to the foremost authority on college football prognostication in the past decade, Phil Steele, USC has the second toughest schedule in the nation behind guess who? Washington.
You know, the Huskies. One of those juggernauts Miles mocked.
As for LSU this upcoming season, according to Steele, the Tigers don't face any preseason top 20 teams on the road so perhaps Carroll should be the one making comments in public about wishing he had the "other guy's" schedule. What's more, while the SEC is the only conference to have five teams ranked in Steele's Preseason Top 25 Power Poll (Pac-10 is tied for second with four), the Pac-10 is the only conference to have six teams ranked in Steele's Top 27.
Carroll, of course, is way too classy to politic USC's ranking in the press. In fact, every season it's a new head coach outside of the Pac-10 crying to the public, appealing to the masses like a desperate politician in making the case for their team to play in the title game. In 2004, it was Auburn's Tommy Tubberville. In 2005 it was Texas' Mack Brown. In 2007, Miles appears to be following the strategy of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in aggressively using the media early on to kick start his campaign.
As for Carroll, he's always maintained the position that the system will play itself out and wherever the BCS tells USC to go, that's where they'll go. In 2002, that destination was the Orange Bowl where they beat a great Iowa team 38-17. In 2003, it was the Trojans who were hosed by the BCS and denied the chance to play in the title game even though they were #1 in both the AP and Coaches Polls. They instead graciously went to the Rose Bowl and beat Michigan 28-14, earning them a split national championship with the soon to be BCS champs, LSU.
It should be noted that Miles is a voter in the ESPN Coaches Poll. In light of his comments, I call to question his objectivity in voting for teams who play outside of the SEC. While I doubt any coach participating on the working end of this poll is able to completely operate free of bias, all doubt as to how Miles views the national landscape has now been removed.
It should also be noted that both USC and LSU have a long, long way to go before they can set their sights on a national championship showdown. In fact, I doubt either will even be there by season's end for one reason – both conferences are too tough and too deep for any team to survive unscathed.
On a lighter note, one of my copywriters asked our British company owner earlier in the week what his plans were for the July 4 Holiday. He didn't answer, but I'm guessing he spent the entire day swallowing barrels of beer and cursing the Americans for revolting against his countrymen.
Was anyone else as appalled as me to see that Amanda Beard drew an eight seed in ESPN's "Now" series? What the heck is going on? Is Joe Lunardi running the Bracketology for this thing? Lunardi, of late, clearly dislikes Arizona basketball and now it looks like he's taking out his frustrations on our beloved Amanda. Beard's a Perfect 10 in my book, which means she deserved the four seed.
Tiger Woods has his first child and suddenly he can't make a three-foot putt. Not good. What is good is Tiger himself. He truly is an iconic figure who can generate a newsworthy story by simply speaking into the microphone. You want "Now." I give you Tiger Woods.
Yesterday, Arizona was featured in FoxSports.com's 119 teams in 119 days. The good news is it gives Arizona supporters one more thing to read about Arizona football. The bad news is the teams are released in ranking order, counting down from 119. Arizona is only the second Pac-10 team (Stanford) to appear thus far, checking in at #58. This means that according to Fox Sports, they're predicted as the ninth best team in the conference. Arizona's good and could easily finish in the conference's top tier come December but the problem is an absolutely brutal road schedule with games at BYU, Cal, Oregon State, USC, Washington and Arizona State.
Arizona's defense is loaded and will be great. Opponents averaged less than 20 points per game (19.6) last year against a defensive roster that returns nine starters. The key, quite simply, is Arizona's offense and it begins and ends with Willie Tuitama and his back up Tyler Lyons. If they can pick up the nuances of Sonny Dykes' new offense and get assistance from the O-line in staying upright long enough to distribute the ball around the field, then Arizona will be one tough team to reckon with.
In a way, Arizona's football team is a lot like their basketball team. Both have struggled of late, but the talent is clearly there. While 2006/2007 was a bit of a disappointment for Wildcats fans, based on high expectations and less than stellar results, the upcoming school year has the potential to be significantly different if the right Wildcats athletes step up and play to their elite abilities.
Let's hope they do.