Previewing the Rose Bowl

The tendency of some in the sports media is to approach a championship-level game or event from a historical perspective, and with as much hyperbole as can be humanly mustered.

And, by the way, let me take this moment to say that Wednesday night's Bowl Championship Series title game between No. 1 USC and No. 2 Texas, which will be played in the greatest football facility on Earth (the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.) and features three of the best college players in history in Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Matt Leinart, has a chance to be the most explosive and electrifying college football game in history

 

But leave it to the players and coaches involved to keep one thing in perspective about a football game between a USC team that has won 34 games in a row and is trying to capture the program's third consecutive national title and a Texas squad that has won 19 in a row and wants to bring the first national title back to Austin since Richard Nixon was wrapping up his first full year in the White House (1969).

 

"Just because it's USC against Texas for a national championship,'' Longhorns' linebacker Aaron Harris said, ``the game hasn't changed. It still comes down to tackling and making touchdowns."

 

Amen.

 

And the national perception is that Coach Pete Carroll's Trojans, led by 2005 Heisman Trophy-winner Bush (18 touchdowns running, receiving and returning kicks), 2004 Heisman-winner Leinart (27 throwing and six running), LenDale White (21 running and two receiving) and Dwayne Jarrett (15 receiving) has a lot more players who are better at the latter than they have at the former.

 

The foundation of that perception was created via the loss of six 2004 defensive starters, including NFL draft picks in linemen Shawn Cody and Mike Patterson, and linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who is toppling ball carriers at a rapid rate with the Seattle Seahawks.

 

And the "defense is their weak link" theory got a boost when Fresno State rung up 42 points and 427 yards on the Trojans as recently as their second-to-last regular-season game.

 

Carroll's counterpart discovered otherwise, via analysis of 12 games' worth of USC video football that no doubt left Mack Brown as bleary eyed as it did with the utmost respect for the USC defensive personnel and scheme.

 

"Probably the biggest surprise was in (watching) how good their defense is," Brown said, no doubt impressed, in large part, by the way the Trojans blistered UCLA's high-powered running and throwing attacks in USC's 66-19 spanking of the Bruins a month ago.

 

He grinned.

 

"I'd heard so much about how bad it (the Trojans' defense) was (before the video study) that I figured ‘this is going to be easy.'"

 

Reality is, of course, that nothing figures to come very easily Wednesday night, on either side of the line of scrimmage, for either team.

 

The Trojans dropped multiple hammers on – and hard – their last three bowl game opponents, smacking Iowa (38-17, in the Orange Bowl), Michigan (28-14, in the Rose Bowl) and, of course, Oklahoma (55-19) in last year's BCS title game in Miami. Each of those games, especially the one with the Sooners' team that took a 12-0 record into the contest, was expected to be down-to-the-wire struggles.

 

The challenge Carroll's team (especially his defense) faces Wednesday night in Pasadena seems much more laced with potential stumbling blocks.

 

For one, the Trojans haven't prepared for any defense comparable to the one that, led by tackle Rodrique Wright, linebacker Aaron Harris and safeties Michael Huff and Michael Griffin, Texas will line up against them in the Rose Bowl.

 

Is it good enough to stifle the Leinart/Bush/White/Jarrett-led offense that covers large hunks of real estate (it averages 580 yards per game) very rapidly (it has 29 scoring plays covering 20 or more yards)?

 

Of course it isn't. But "holding" the Trojans to three or four touchdowns Wednesday night could be all the Texas defense has to do to help hand Carroll's team the program's first loss since Sept. 27 of 2003, when Cal prevailed, 34-31, in two overtimes.

 

That's because, a) this USC defense, even with as much improvement as it has made over the course of the season, isn't anywhere nearly as potent as the 2003 and 2004 versions were; and, b) the Texas offense, led by Young, seems much more explosive and multi-dimensional than any USC has come across over the past 34 games.

 

If the Longhorns can establish a consistent running attack (which very few teams have done, even this season, against the Trojans under Carroll) and Young is able to roam, scramble and improvise his way into big plays like no one has on the college level has since Michael Vick, maybe they can ring up the four or five touchdowns they'll probably need to win the game.

 

You notice there are a lot of "ifs", "maybes" and "probablys" involved in this analysis.

 

And too many of them have to line up on the side of the Longhorns to keep USC from taking a 35-game winning streak into next season.

 

Make it Trojans 38, Longhorns 28.

 

But for now, we can sit back and enjoy watching the "tackling" and "touchdown-scoring" take place for the better part of four hours Wednesday.

 

Then the media can digest it for a few moments, compare what it saw when what it hyped, and offer up its own bit of historical perspective – and begin gearing up to do it all over again a year from now.

 

Hey! It's what we do best!

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national columinst and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com


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