Changing face of football

For Fox college football analyst Joey Harrington, the Pac-12, and much of college football, is a changing place with all the young talent coming in and playing right away.

It's Game 5 with an Arizona State team coming to the Coliseum Saturday (4:30 p.m., Fox) and as Steve Sarkisian has been saying since he took the USC job, the focus should always be on the Trojans.

Which is where we're going here. Just where are these young, talented, undisciplined at times, trying hard, wanting-to-be-good Trojans right now?

So we thought we'd check in with Fox analyst, and former Oregon quarterback, Joey Harrington, who will be doing Saturday's game.

Joey's gameplan as an analyst, he says, is to watch film. "I don't read stats or check storylines," he was saying on his Friday morning drive in from LAX to the McKay Center to sit down all day with game film, take a break for dinner, and get back to watching film. You can take the quarterback off the football field but not out of the film room.

"You learn about teams by watching them play," Joey says. The last two games minimum, ideally at least the last three,

So what does he see when he watches this 3-1 USC team (2-0 in the Pac-12)?

"I see a typical USC team," he says, somewhat surprisingly in a year when the goal for Sark & Co. was to go uptempo with a hybrid blend of no-huddle, shotgun and pro-style running 80 or more plays a game. But with its average of 70 plays the last three games, USC doesn't look like it's much figured out that uptempo thing.

Harrington says he wouldn't include USC among the league's speeded-up spread option teams like Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State. That's not what the Trojans do or who they are.

But there's another change in college football that Arizona showed off in Thursday night's Pac-12-jumbling upset win at Oregon: young players coming in and playing well.

"It's a growing trend," Harrington says. And it's not just because Arizona had extra time for the young Wildcats to get ready for Oregon. "Middle school kids are lifting weights now. Guys are coming in much more ready to play and expecting to play."

At Arizona and USC, they're getting that chance. And Oregon?

"They have some real holes in their offensive line with all the injuries they've had," Harrington said of his alma mater. Thursday night's loss wasn't that big a surprise to him. "Marcus [Mariota] was beaten up and sacked seven times by Washington State."

Offensive line play matters, matters a great deal. Can't be good without it. Which is where the focus for USC football has to be right now. If this young group becomes solid and strong, the Trojans will clearly be a team to deal with.

As to the rest of the season for the once-favored Ducks, "I don't think this changes the potential for this Oregon team," Harrington said. "Teams lose football games. It's how you respond to them that matters."

Which gets us to this USC team. It's a team that finds itself right now the one coming back, one game removed, from that forgettable Boston College game. But if they're smart, they won't allow it to fade from memory. Not in a Pac-12 with more good teams who can beat you than anyone can remember. Like Arizona, a team USC faces in Tucson next week after Arizona State.

"I think that game speaks to the depth of the Pac-12," Harrington said of Arizona's win in Eugene. This is not the Pac-10 that Pete Carroll's Trojans dominated for seven straight seasons. "You have a large number of teams knocking at the door now."

And then there is this USC team, unbeaten in the league after getting that Stanford game in Palo Alto and now starting its Pac-12 South schedule. "Extremely athletic with explosive skill players," Harrington says of the Trojans. "And Cody Kessler is coming into his own."

But there is this. "The only thing you don't see is the true explosiveness" of the Leinart/Bush era Trojans teams, Harrington says. The athletes may be there. The plays aren't. Not yet, anyway.

And no, Harrington is not surprised that this USC offense, for example, could easily have four true freshmen on the field at the same time. "USC can recruit those kinds of players," he says. 'It's a sign of how speeded-up the game has become."

Harrington was talking about the speeded-up way young players get to the field. Which may be more of a factor in games like the Arizona upset over Oregon than any extra time to prepare, something USC will face every time out in the Pac-12 South.

But here's our take on this. With young talent like USC has -- and Arizona -- the most important thing this season could well be how quickly teams find themselves, figure out who they are and how they get where they need to go and are able to do so every week out. The way Arizona did this week.

For analysts like Harrington, and the ESPN guys working Thursday night in Eugene, this is the challenge. Just as it is for the teams. Two or three game films maybe won't be enough to know which team will show up each week. Not with teams with this much young talent.

They don't know how good they can be. They just must know they have to keep getting better. Which means the pressure is on. On coaching staffs maybe more than ever. To figure their teams out. To get them off to good starts. To do no harm with gameplans that get them out of the gate behind at the half. To facilitate. To make it easy for young players to play up to their talents. To not be stubbornly locked-in to playcalling that results in third-and-longs and three-and-outs.

Which is what has to happen for USC the next two games in the battle of Arizona that has flipped around on the Trojans in projected degree of perceived difficulty. The Arizona State game becomes another must-win moment for the Trojans in a season, and a Pac-12, that will be full of them.

And that trip to Tucson -- a major, major challenge.

But USC's win at Stanford has given the Trojans a leg up on everybdy -- if they can figure out how they have to play, how they have to free up their playmakers on both sides of the ball and how they keep on getting better week after week after week.

Starting Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum heat.

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