IT's Rose Bowl Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and the reasoning behind those picks, in Wednesday's Rose Bowl between Texas and USC.

Frisbie -- I'm going to drop my pants and show you my psychological underwear: I've not fully recovered from the 1978 Cotton Bowl.

That's when Notre Dame broke my 16 year-old heart with that 38-10 shocker over top-ranked Texas. The undefeated regular season joyride, culminating with Earl Campbell's Heisman Trophy, was the year of my blood transfusion. Since then I have bled Burnt Orange, but the hangover from that miserable New Years Day has lingered for 27 years.

Then there was the 1984 Cotton Bowl, AKA the Craig Curry game. Undefeated and No. 2, all Texas needed that day was a win over Georgia plus Miami beating No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. But only one of those things happened. (I don't know which is worse: getting rolled, or losing by one-point late in the game, when a national championship is up for grabs.)

There's not much in this life that I've wanted more than for the Horns to win one of those titles. And that's what makes this pick so difficult: your head says one thing while your heart says another. Logic dictates that USC wins this game. The NFL Draft, during the next couple of seasons, will read like a Trojan roster. Heck, they've already got an NFL guy coaching them. Sure, there have been times this season when the Trojans have trailed at halftime. But you get the sense that these guys just flip the switch when the game finally becomes interesting to them.

Most members of the national media here in LaLa Land have, understandably picked the Trojans. They gently try to assure us Texans that the Longhorns don't stand a chance. Memories of Oklahoma's 55-19 meltdown is still fresh in their minds. Take the points, they say. It brings to mind the reaction that young Darrell Royal received from the national media prior to Texas' only other No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in school history. One eastern sportswriter informed readers that if they wanted a good laugh, they should tune in to Texas' game against Navy because the Horns were "the biggest fraud ever perpetuated on the football public." Final score: Texas 28, Navy (and its Heisman winner Roger Staubach) 7.

There's no need to rehash USC's recent offensive dominance. Every card-carrying Horn fan has heard it ad nauseam. Suffice it to say, the Trojan offense this year is better than when they won the past two national championships. The only question is whether Texas can hold serve. There's no doubt in my mind that it can -- and will -- unless it gives the ball away like its government cheese.

The good news is that USC's defense is not better. Folks talk about the USC secondary being the 'weak link' but the biggest mismatch could be senior TE David Thomas against the Trojans' young outside linebackers. The Men of Troy have had to bring SS Darnell Bing closer to the LOS to compensate for the 'backers and to provide run support. He won't be able to do that long if Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman or Quan Cosby can get their hands on a deep ball early.

Defense wins football games? Third time's the charm? Or, consider this:

The Horns have won 19 straight, but does anyone recall the number of victories Darrell Royal's team notched before he won the national title in 1969? That's right. Nineteen.

The Trojans have won 34 straight, but does anyone recall the length of Miami's win streak when Ohio State snapped it in 2002? That's right. Thirty-four.

But here's a more significant number. No. 10. He'll find a way. In Vince I trust.

Keep hope alive! Texas 41, USC 38.

Pearle -- Over the weeks since Texas-USC in the Rose Bowl became a reality, my feeling about this game has evolved. As both teams put the finishing touches on their respective 12-0 seasons, I began thinking that this USC team, with two Heisman winners in the backfield, with a coach who has won back-to-back national titles (OK, one, plus an asterisk title), that would be playing in its hometown, and which has not been beaten in two and a half seasons, is simply too explosive, too dazzling, too resourceful, and too full of magic for Texas to beat. Or put another way: for Texas to claim its first national championship since 1970 against this USC team would simply be too great a mountain to climb.

But as I have had time to reflect on things, I have decided that my reasons for thinking USC will win this game have more to do with the hype than anything related to Xs and Os. The fact that USC stomped OU last year in the national title game, that they now appear to own the Heisman Trophy, snagging three out of the last four, that they haven't lost in 30-whatever games, that they are being regularly spoken of on ESPN as possibly the greatest team ever, are truly impressive. This is obviously a fantastic USC team. But none of these things answer the question of whether the Trojans can beat the Horns in this one-time, winner-take all shootout.

When I look at how Texas actually stacks up with USC on the field, I begin thinking Texas can pull this thing off. Everybody knows USC is tremendous offensively. Between Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett and the offensive line that protects them, this is truly a frightening offense. But I believe the Horns have the athletes to keep Bush from killing them. Safeties Michael Huff and Michael Griffin are among the best safety tandems in the country. These guys, particularly Huff, are great football players, and with Huff drawing the job of shadowing Bush, I like the Horns' chances of slowing the Heisman winner down.

When Leinart goes back to throw, Tim Crowder, Brian Robison and a blitzing, kamikaze Robert Killebrew should be able to get to Leinart enough to keep him from picking the Horns apart. Texas' DT rotation of Frank Okam, Larry Dibbles and Rod Wright have the size and strength to stand up to the inside pounding of White, and can keep him in check, if, and it's a huge "if," Aaron Harris can back them up. Harris simply must regain his form as a headhunting playmaker if the Texas defense is to have a chance at stopping the inside rushing game of USC. For me, the play of Harris will be a key to whether Texas can win this game.

And that brings up the other reason I think the Horns can get it done defensively -- Gene Chizik. The Texas DC has got a personal winning streak going of his own that almost equals the streak of USC. He will have his defense ready to play, with a game-plan that gives it a chance to stop "the greatest offense ever." And I think he and the other coaches will get inside the head of Aaron Harris and have the senior linebacker ready to play his best football.

On offense, Texas will face a USC defense that has gotten better during the season, and that features a couple of talented DEs in Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson, and a great playmaker in Darnell Bing. But the Trojans are youthful at the outside LB positions, and showed against Notre Dame and Fresno State that they can be skewered by a team with talent at the skill positions and the will to attack them confidently and without fear. That's Texas to a "T".

As for special teams, I think the edge goes to Texas, which has turned blocking kicks into an art form. While Reggie Bush is obviously a threat to take it to the house on any given touch, the Horns at least can attempt to keep it out of his hands by kicking away. For Texas, Aaron Ross has proven that he knows how to put it in the end zone himself this season.

Finally, I think Texas has got some intangibles of its own going into this game. The fact that the Horns played and won in this same stadium a year ago, practiced on the same fields, stayed in the same hotel, in short, have done this drill before, will remove a lot of USC's home field edge. Fact is, Texas has won in the Rose Bowl more recently than the Trojans. And the fact that the national media appear to give Texas virtually no chance against this Southern Cal team, which the media so desperately want to proclaim the best ever, will, I believe, get the Horns' blood pumpin'.

This is a very proud Texas team that has itself won 19 straight, including wins over Michigan, an Oklahoma team that just beat sixth-ranked, PAC-10 runner-up Oregon, and Fiesta Bowl champ Ohio State away, but which seems to be almost an afterthought to some pundits.

Outside of Vince Young, I bet most of the country could not name you even one other Texas player, because the media outside of Texas does not seem to know who they are, or more to the point, even care. It's all about the Trojans and Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, and whatever team it is that will be their sacrificial lamb this week.

All of that plays into Texas' hands. We've seen it happen to Texas against Oklahoma State and A&M this year: when everybody is proclaiming a team the greatest, they start believing it, even if they try and tell themselves it ain't true, we respect our opponent, etc. It's just human nature to believe your press. So I think USC will go into this game over-confident, partly because of their awesome win streak, but also because of the hype that surrounds them, and overconfident teams can get upset when their opponents punch them in the mouth instead of groveling at their feet. You can bet Texas will come out punching, not groveling.

So I am going to pick Texas, not because I am a homer, (let the record show that the last game Texas lost, against OU in '04, I picked the Sooners), but because, with coaching and intangibles being equal, I think the Texas defense can limit the Trojan offense to fewer points than USC's can Texas', and because I think Texas' special teams can make a play that can turn a tight ball game in the Horns' favor.

Wednesday night in the Rose Bowl, the Longhorns will take home their first national championship in three and a half decades. Make it Texas 45, USC 41.

Ross -- It's been exactly a month since Texas dismantled Colorado in the Big 12 Championship game, a month that both flew by, fueled by unprecedented anticipation in Austin, but that also strangely dragged, particularly as the national media (read: ESPN) often relegated the Horns to afterthought status as it tried to convince the world that USC could beat an all-star team of every national champion that came before it (and would darn near give this year's Indianapolis Colts a game, at least offensively).

OK, I'll admit, that's an exaggeration, but there's little doubt that the Trojans enter the Rose Bowl as huge favorites in the eyes of many around the country. And I believe that is the perfect position for this Longhorn team, and its leader Vince Young, to enter Wednesday's contest.

Three weeks ago, in the days following Reggie Bush's coronation in New York City (the culmination of three weeks of Reggie worship after the junior back's flashy Fresno State explosion which followed weeks of average performances), I was concerned that the Heisman snub could potentially lead the nation's most consistently outstanding player Vince Young to another A&M game-like performance in Pasadena. Instead, from what I've seen and heard from Vince since those first few post-Heisman days, I'm convinced that the VY we'll see in California is the VY we've seen in every game but that day-after-Thanksgiving tilt in College Station: the unflappable, spirited leader who will set a "loose" tone for his teammates (and who, I believe, will return to his dual-threat ways largely abandoned over the last few games of the season).

It's almost like the attention given to the Heisman situation, coupled with the media's ridiculously fawning coverage of USC, has liberated Vince and shaken him from what was an uncharacteristic funk. (Those that have formed an opinion of Young based on literal snapshots of his career -- the A&M game, the Heisman ceremony -- are sadly misinformed about the character of the kid from Houston Madison.) Across the Longhorn team, you sense an us-against-the-world attitude. It's not extremely overt. But behind closed doors, there's little doubt that fire has been stoked.

All of that is between the ears, and I think it is important. But I also think the Horns at least match their West Coast opponents on the field in offensive ability (it's spread and utilized a bit differently by each team, but the parity is real). I may be in the minority on this one, but I see the defenses being close to equal (although on a personnel basis I'd take UT's D, USC's proven ability to create turnovers is an equalizer), and frankly, I don't see either one stopping the opposing offense. Texas has an edge in special teams (although Bush is still a scary site to see in the return game; think Steve Breaston last Jan. 1). And the team in the Orange and White matches the Trojans in the only streak that matters this season -- 12 straight wins. (As aside: While there is no transitive property in football, the bowl season has proven instructive in the abilities of both team's opponents, and any argument that USC's schedule in particular of the PAC-10 strength in general somehow trumped Texas and the Big 12 was shown to be a fallacy. And the veiled swipes by Trojan players and coaches that Texas is simply this year's version of last year's Oklahoma team, puh-lease... and please keeping thinking that right on up till kickoff!)

All of that is to say that these are two pretty darn evenly matched teams. Both have proven capable of amazing performances, and both have proven capable of less than stellar performances that nonetheless resulted in victories. Could the Rose Bowl be a blowout? Yes, and it could happen to either team if it plays down to say, an A&M game, or Fresno State game, level. But rather than a blowout, I expect a shootout. Three weeks ago, I would have taken USC, but barely. Today, I'm taking Texas, but barely. Neither outcome would surprise me, but I love the way the Horns are positioned heading into the title game. The 36-year drought ends Wednesday. Texas 42, USC 35.


Horns Digest Top Stories