In general, the way in which the national media handles news content has been deteriorating and sports journalism is not without its timely examples. The BCS controversy was again the headline story up until the final scores were all posted on the boards. As such, the media certainly allocated significant dialogue to the issue, and I must say, they did so in mostly a fair and evenhanded way. ABC/ESPN, the near monopolistic distribution agency for bowl game programming spoke of the BCS controversy forthrightly, and in an admirable fashion for a party with a significant interest in said proceedings.
I am not certain the BCS decision to align itself partly with the Fox network in the coming years will permit such a frankness… and it is not to the BCS' merit they don't recognize this. Given the slightest opportunity for histrionics, Fox will certainly exploit rather than resolve. ABC/ESPN has been a very fair partner of the process and it is much to my concern the new partner won't be up to the task.
Though it is fair also to point out ABC/ESPN learned a thing or two about strategic placement by following the Fox lead in self-promotion of upcoming content. Some advertising hack surely became bonus eligible given the number of "Tilt" preview insertions on SportsCenter, as a commercial break or an onscreen graphic… but that topic is best saved for a better time.
One additional observation of the BCS and the bowl season as a whole: The collective slate of games demonstrated that California, the only team all season to truly have a chance to upset USC and even though defeated by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl (more on that later) was more deserving of a BCS slot than either of the two Big-12 teams they were passed over for. What the BCS demonstrated was it's complete inability to free itself from this repeated bias against the Pac-10 and it is time for this to end.
Right #$%$#@@ NOW.
Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen has to be much more forceful with his effort to insure there will be no more short-straws passed to the conference. Once, it was a hiccup, twice it was a coincidence, the third time, it was a trend, now it's a habit. We have only ourselves to blame for not putting an end to it the first time the prejudice impacted the conference.
On too the Bowls themselves – not quite stream of conscious rambling… but…
Michigan/Texas – No question a great game, but it in no way "validated" the late minute juxtaposition that placed the Longhorns in Pasadena. Michigan was not the strongest of teams this year and Texas only escaped by a nose though Vincent Young put on a show for the ages. Texas Tech's rout of California was more the result of the proctology performed on their post-season fate by the BCS than it was a resolution of some Big 12/Pac-10 debate.
UCLA – and to think that team came into to Autzen for an important ballgame and WON??? Yes, there is talent and when talent shows up to play, anything can happen. There is also a sense of predetermination, a knowledge of how the immediate future can be used to one's advantage and then doing just exactly that. Oregon used to know how to do this. That November day in Autzen the Ducks showed how completely they had lost that ability, just as they had in the opener vs. Indiana.
USC surely has acquired this ability – again that teaching element demonstrates its dominant role in success.
California? My, they are still the joker in the deck, aren't they? The Holiday Bowl result isn't a leading indicator of next season, but they still have a billion questions to answer now that wouldn't be so pointed if they had stuffed Lubbock U in San Diego as they should have. Or done the same to Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Jeff Tedford, I have no doubt, is an outstanding teacher.
Not so for Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. I am reasonably certain I have never witnessed a more complete Pontious Pilate impersonation in my life. Sharing with his brother Arizona coach Mike Stoops an intense and demanding persona, these two are in your face, scream and yell till you get it right kinda guys. Not my style perhaps but I would have thought the conviction he carries that fuels this intensity would be equaled in his loyalty toward his players. "Throwing the player under the bus" is the terminology and it surely is descriptive of his post-game comments toward Oklahoma receiver/punt return man Mark Clayton.
Curious to note though, it was Clayton who was involved with both the fumble that was ruled out of bounds on the Sooners opening touchdown drive and the mishandled punt return that was recovered by USC and both mishaps were oddly out of character with the way the game is universally played. The two-handed chest pass to pitch the ball toward the end zone was an inexplicable reaction to being forced out of bounds by a defender. Had the fumble been recovered by USC, it would have been as big a turning point as was the punt recovery, itself an inexplicable action. Was there a sabotage? Stoops behavior would be better understood if there were, but that program may be showing some cracks in the façade after three championship meltdowns in a row… K State, LSU and now USC.
As an aside – was it just me that found a poetic justice in the timing of the Toby Keith sideline interview and the fumbled punt return? Maybe having SC recover the fumbled punt and change the course of the whole game would lead him to think he should forego future sideline interviews… but I somehow doubt the thought crosses his mind.
It's a USC world, we are just sharing it…
The Pete Carroll model is built around teaching first, second, third and last. As he also is allowed the cream of the athletic crop every year, it is not unreasonable for one to say they should have seen this coming. Yeah, maybe we did… maybe we just didn't think it would happen quite the way it did. The more realistic expectation was for a quick spike in the relative fortunes and then a return to form with underachievement and a vacuum of character, followed by another stumbled booster/athletic department intrusion.
But this, this juggernaut currently in place… THIS Trojan momentum, looks so sustainable. Without question the balance of potential and the athletic learning curve of a player can be disrupted in a thousand and one ways. Carroll looks, acts, and so far has aptly demonstrated a heightened ability in maintaining that mutual value/reward equilibrium. A very useful skill one must quickly acknowledge, so why then is it in such short supply? Not just within athletics, but also throughout the spectrum of human endeavor. Yes, it is difficult to achieve, yet the preponderance of evidence seems to indicate a complete unwillingness to accept the challenge or to participate in the greater reward it may precipitate. Too few try well, many many more don't even try at all…
NUTS & BOLTS
A lesson can be found in the game plan used by USC to throttle the OU defense. The Trojans weren't cute or complicated, they set out to establish some speed to the outside but not necessarily stretch the field deep, using Reggie Bush out of the flanker position. Then LenDale White began to slash through the Sooner's defensive line for 6-8 yards a pop. Finally, speed deep was used to bury the Big 12 opponent. A fairly tried and true formula, the success lies not in the creativity but in the implementation – and an intelligent use of talent to best suit the predetermined agenda.
While Terrence Whitehead gained a 1000 yards last season, I don't think opposing defenses were overly concerned about the Ducks running game. That he would get yards but would not break games open was the prevailing - and accurate - appraisal. Had the Oregon offensive staff leveraged this into something else, perhaps a more efficient use of talents could have been found.
Place Dante Rosario at tailback, pounding on every gap and linebacker with speed and size. Force the opposition to commit enough of the defensive resources to stop Rosario between the tackles and I will guarantee you will be able find some other… more likely, many other… options now available at your pleasure. Two, three yards, the occasional "original line of scrimmage" type runs are as important as are the rushes that would find him running by the front defense and into the secondary.
Line Terrence Whitehead up at flanker, where his darting style of running would find less cluttered real estate to negotiate after a quick DOWNFIELD (not that blankin' flanker screen for no gain) pass on a three-step drop from Kellen Clemens. Add Tim Day and Demetrius Williams as opportunity allows for middle and deep routes and NOT as a means of developing possession - at least until Rosario has left his mark. Incorporate one other receiver for motion or line balance and you would have ANY defense on its heels – in the film room as well as on game day. Plan your work, work your plan.
Extraordinary athleticism would be welcomed, but not required, the only necessity to perform consistently well is basic execution. USC certainly did that each and every game this past season. They fully exemplified the philosophy of imposing their will upon the outcome of the game long before the television cameras were turned on. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow's game planning was predicated not on what he felt the opposition weaknesses were so much as they were predicated on forcing the opposition to address Reggie Bush and LenDale White out of the tailback slot, then moving Bush to flanker and turning Matt Leinart loose. USC was able to follow that script each and every Saturday.
If other teams in the conference seek to compete with Trojans, and beyond the conference into the national arena, they best be figuring out how it's done. That USC did it with talent that will remain a distinct cut above that garnered by the rest of the conference certainly heightens the urgency, but it also offers a hint or two about how to go about doing so; find kids who are willing to learn, then teach to perform.
We are in the final month of recruiting for the next class of football players. In light of the disappointing recent season, and Coach Bellotti's public emphasis on improved recruiting results, it would be wise for all fans to take a moment and click on the TOP STORIES link at the bottom of this page and read through Grant Gibson's piece, "Keeping Up With Compliance", a summary of the NCAA recruiting regulations. A complicated and contradictory set of rules exist and with Oregon already on probation for inappropriate recruiting practices from two winters ago, any and all who may find themselves in a position to influence a decision by any student/athlete would be wise to read and understand what is permissible and what is not.
And then… there's... this…
This space won't often sing the praises of the Orange & Black, but two kudos are appropriate. The first, to the Beaver football team as a whole, is for the finish they put to their season by defeating Notre Dame handily in the Insight Bowl. Empathy for the Irish players and coaches over the Willingham firing is not diminished by my welcome of another significant defeat for the administration to endure. They got it the old-fashioned way… they earned it! Many long years remain and all indications are the current regime has no clue, doesn't know where to look for a clue, and it is open to debate they would know what to do with a clue if they found a clue.
The second atta-boy goes to senior quarterback Derek Anderson. Objectivity requires I disclose we share the same hometown, though also an age gap of MANY years, so a touch of bias is both unavoidable and, hopefully, accepted by the reader. That stated, that kid was so abused by the unsophisticated fan... never understanding or counting how many interceptions were due to improper routes, stone fingers, or unrealistic attempts to establish some offense – ANY offense – with a very one-dimensional attack while operating behind an offensive line that was recurrently porous. I hope he finds someway in real life to include that on his resume, it's a hell of an accomplishment.
Had the Dennis Erickson regime not blown his first year of eligibility – Derek played in five games, going 17-for-41 and 263 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions as true freshman – and redshirted him instead, there is little doubt another year would give Anderson nearly every conference record in the books. Even if you were to discount his sophomore season records, his first as the starting quarterback to allow for the limited game experience he received instead of redshirting, … with another season, he would own every record by a lot…
While the two defeats of the Ducks at Burrito Stadium aren't my fondest memories of his career, anything less than a sincere "Well done" would be a negligence on my part, though I will also admit to finding the "fair weather friend" nature of the criticism directed his way by the Orange & Black faithful to be another reason I'm happily a Duck. They didn't know how good they had it and they complained every step of the way… a sorry, sorry statement about the collective wisdom up there….
Back in a week with a final few recollections of the football season, the off-season ahead and probably talk some hoops. Till then….