Monday notebook: It's not just numbers

Trojans make it about them . . . now. Just the way it was when that's the way it was. And now it is.

It happens without fail. When a returning Trojan who played during that era we all won't soon forget a decade ago, that time when Pete Carroll's teams ruled the world, the story is almost unfailingly the same.

And amazingly, it's the same story they told us back when USC was winning seven straight Pac-12 titles. It's a story about them and their teammates.

For the guys who left for the NFL and have come back, it's those USC teams that live in their hearts. The NFL was a job. A profession, if you will.

But those USC teams were a love affair. And here's why. Because what made those teams special, something they understood then and reiterate now, was the way they went after one another during the week.

The respect was so great that even if it wasn't absolutely true the way they said that they knew they'd be fine on game day because no one could challenge them the way they were challenged in practice, it didn't matter. They were challenged more, they'd say, and had to go harder there than they ever would in games.

What mattered was how they believed it was true. And practiced as if it was. Which left them with nothing but total confidence -- and an ability to make plays when they came their way.

All of which is an introduction to the contention here that what Steve Sarkisian said this week about USC's approach to this season, how the focus will be on the Trojans and what they do in practice and how hard they do it and how much they challenge one another, will matter more than gameplanning for the likes of Stanford this week and Arizona State next week.

Of course they'll gameplan. And try to pick apart opponents in ways that work against the folks from The Farm Saturday and in Tempe the next week. But no more first adjusting to opponents. Make opponents adjust to USC.

You can do that if you do it when you go "goods against goods" every Tuesday and Wednesday in pads. And when you have "goods" that are as good as USC's last two recruiting classes, you can do that.

You can do that when you don't have to worry about injuries those days. When you can say, as Sark did Sunday, that you "don't play not to get injured" when asked if Adoree' should fair catch more. You say let him make a play if he thinks he can.

It's that playmaking component that matters here. Getting guys to realize in practice what it takes to make plays at game tempo and under pressure. Do it right and you get a team that gets better every week from challenging itself.

At least that's "the formula," as Sark says. And they're sticking to it.

It really is about USC now, no matter who the Trojans are playing.

Complete Student . . . Top Students

With this week's Complete Student focus in the Pac-12 on football players as more than just that, USC listed the top 10 football GPA's and we thought we'd note them here for their great work off the field: 1) Stefan Smith 3.55; 2) Robby Kolanz 3.50; 3) Connor Spears 3.44; 4) David Mellstrom 3.43: 5) Cameron Smith 3.43; 6) Max Browne 3.42; 7) Michael Bowman 3.38; 8) Matt Boermeester 3.36; 9) Alex Wood 3.34; and 10) Joel Foy 3.24.

BIG TEN going way of the SEC?

OK, we saw this from a poster on Irish Illustrated where they're much closer in the Midwest to what's happening in the Big Ten. But with Michigan State's win over Oregon, they're starting to get worried that the Big Ten, with Ohio State and Michigan State not playing until Nov. 21, could get two teams into the CFB Playoffs with those two unbeaten and ranked 1-2 when they face off.

And to prove how possible that might be, all they had to do was list those two teams' combined schedules from here on out. Read 'em and weep. Air Force, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Purdue, Indiana (twice), Maryland (twice), Michigan (twice), Penn State (twice), Rutgers (twice), Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska. If there's a single ranked team in there, we're missing it.

USC plays five more ranked teams than those two combined since neither faces the only other ranked teams -- Northwestern and Wisconsin -- in the Big Ten's now skewed divisional scheduling that's as bad as the SEC's.

Alternate uni's: the problem

For those who'd like to see a red-and-gold USC incorporate a black alternate uniform into the look, please check out the 49'ers game Monday night and note exactly what can go wrong -- what can go very, very wrong. Not worth it.

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