O/NSO - Auburn preview

Perhaps the biggest interior battle of the game will be USC's Wild Bunch ll and the veteran Auburn offensive line, which returns four starters that delivered heavy rushing punishment to the Trojans last year in the first half at the Coliseum.

The Obvious – Making a rare Alabama journey into the heart of the Southeast Conference, the No. 8 University of Southern California Trojans, riding an 8-game winning streak, open their 2003 football season deep in the heart of Dixie by challenging the No. 6 ranked Auburn Tigers in a CBS nationally televised (3:00 p.m., PST) headliner Saturday evening in rockin' Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Not So Obvious – It has been 24 years since USC brought its fabled football tradition to the state of Alabama, where football and tailgating is religion. The last time the Trojans came to this gulf state, the Trojans whacked Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide 24-14 before a stunned 77,313 in Birmingham, as tailback Charles White showcased USC's proud tailback tradition and a bevy of future NFL offensive and defensive linemen provided a commanding Trojan performance.

The Obvious – The oddsmakers have established the Trojans as a four-point underdog for Saturday's early evening opener, a line that opened with the Trojans as three-point dogs.

The Not So Obvious – Forget about the point numbers, the only numbers that may really have an impact this weekend are the weather numbers. According to the Weather Channel, the forecast in Auburn calls for isolated thunderstorms and a high of 88 degrees, 80% humidity, and a VU Index of high (10). The record high for an August 30th in Auburn is 98 degrees in 1959. Having just returned ourself from central Florida on Tuesday, it was extremely hot, verrrry humid, and thunderstorms rolled in at a moment's notice.

The Obvious – While the Trojans figure to bring their famous propeller-sized "Kool-Zone" air-conditioners, Coach Pete Carroll plays down the weather by saying, "We had some tremendously hot days during camp and I think that helped prepare us. As long as the temperature and humidity is the same on both sides of the field, then I am okay. We're really trying not to make a big deal of it."

The Not So Obvious – Conversely, Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville says, "A lot of the game will depend on depth. You can't just play four guys (Wild Bunch ll) in this game. There are going to be 8-10 players play on both defensive lines. I like our depth playing in hot weather."

The Obvious – Pete Carroll staff figures to play as many players as possible due to the conditions and that means a number of true freshmen will be thrown into their ultimate fantasy.

The Not So Obvious – If the recently released USC depth chart is any indication, a number of true freshmen from last season's star-studded recruiting class will be asked to contribute. Expect to see the likes of DE Chris Barrett, OG Sam Baker, RB Reggie Bush, C Ryan Kalil, and WR Steve Smith. In the big picture of the 2003 season, this is a game that figures to grow some football manly hair in a last minute hurry that will greatly benefit the Trojans at places like Tempe, South Bend, and Seattle.

The Obvious – Aside from the various inexperience factors for both teams and the usual football jargon of mistakes and turnovers, make no mistake about it, this game will be decided by which team has the best stamina and depth to avoid a physical and mental meltdown.

The Not So Obvious – Saturday's game will also point out which units for both teams are in the best shape for this environmental challenge. If the Trojans win because of ball control and time of possession, then it figures the Trojan offense will have to be in better condition than Auburn's defense. The real test in this scenario will be the oft- injured Trojan offensive line, especially tackle Jacob Rogers, which will be put to the crucible in terms of possible unreasonable game conditions. Conversely, can the vaunted Trojan defense outlast the punishing Auburn ground game?

The Obvious – The nation will be treated to two of the very best defenses in college football with stars and athletes galore on both teams.

The Not So Obvious – Of the USC defense, Auburn coach Tuberville informs, " They've got a lot speed. They (USC) remind me a lot of us on defense. They are very, very athletic."

The Obvious – While Auburn enters the game with nationally acclaimed linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby, the Trojans will display a lesser known group of linebackers in hard-hitting senior captain Champ Simmons, All-Pac-10 junior star Matt Grootegoed, and intriguing sophomore newcomer Lofa Tatupu, the new middle linebacker and son of former Trojan fullback Mosi.

The Not So Obvious - While the Trojan linebacker trio comes in relatively healthy, Trojan fans will want to keep an eye on Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas, who has been out two weeks with a strained hamstring. Trojan fans know all about those strained hamstrings and conditioning. The heartbeat of the Auburn defense, Thomas naturally says that he is good to go on Saturday. We shall see.

The Obvious – Although the USC/Auburn series is tied 1-1 and this will only be the third meeting between the two traditional powers, this will be the Trojans first trip to Auburn, an especially difficult place to play for a road season opener.

The Not So Obvious - If Trojan fans need some encouragement, USC has an impressive season opening road record of 22-7-1 (.750), and they will need all the historical advantages they can muster, for the last time the cardinal and gold came this deep into the South, they lost in 1998 to Florida State, 30-10, in Tallahassee and in 1982 to Florida,17-9, in "The Swamp" in Gainesville.

The Obvious – The Trojans will trot out an array of proven and potential sophomore stars that could have a major impact in the game including Pac-10 Conference freshman of the year receiver Mike Williams, running back Hershel Dennis, and quarterback Matt Leinart.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans have had great offensive success in the state of Alabama playing sophomores. History has shown us the likes of fullback Sam "Bam" Cunningham (1970) and quarterback Paul McDonald (1978) , each of whom had major impacts in victories against the Alabama Crimson Tide in their sophomore year.

The Obvious – Much of the publicity in Alabama about the Trojans has been geared to Norm Chow's passing attack and the presence of redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart, who has yet to throw a pass as a Trojan.

The Not So Obvious – Coach Tuberville says of the Trojan receivers "probably the best receivers we'll play as a group", and Tiger defensive back Carlos Rogers adds, "We've been talking about this (game) since last year. I started watching them (USC receivers on film) since last spring going in there, (the film room) probably two days a week before I lifted." Last year the Tigers ranked 14th nationally in pass defense and led the SEC with 21 pics.

The Obvious – The contrast in quarterbacks couldn't be more tantalizing as the Trojans trot out pure passer Matt Leinart, and Auburn brings the athletic Jason Campbell. The common trait of both is they are in the 6-4 to 6-5 range and well over 210 pounds.

The Not So Obvious – This week the Orlando Sentinel did their third annual rating of all 117 Division 1-A quarterbacks. Auburn quarterbacks (Jason Campbell/Josh Sullivan) were ranked No. 57 and the Sentinel commented, "Hey, we admit it. We're not sold on Campbell." As for the Trojans, USC signal-callers (Leinart/Cassell) were listed No.65 with the comment, "Expect a big drop-off in QB play from Carson Palmer." The top-rated quarterback unit was Georgia with David Greene and D.J. Shockley called the "best 1-2 punch in the nation."

The Obvious – Saturday's game is an Auburn ticket scalper's delight, and this game is being called by local media one of the biggest football events in Auburn history.

The Not So Obvious – Jordan-Hare Stadium (86,063) is a wonderful place to see a game and if you have the bucks, you can sit in one of the 70 luxury boxes. The stadium is named after Ralph "Shug" Jordan, Auburn's winningest football coach, and Cliff Hare, a member of Auburn's first football team.

The Obvious – While the team will be staying in Montgomery, many Trojan fans will be traveling the 118 miles from Atlanta. Auburn University is located in Lee County, and this will be a great chance to compare the Auburn experience with that of the Notre Dame weekender.

The Not So Obvious –Trojan fans are reminded that Auburn , Alabama, is in the Central Time Zone and Hot-lanta is in the Eastern Time Zone, so keep that in mind if you're driving. The city of Auburn has a population of 44,000, while an adjacent city, Opelika, has a population of 26, 000. For historians, Auburn University was chartered in 1856 and was closed from 1861-1866 due to a little tussle called the Civil War. The city of Auburn and Auburn University "meet" at "Toomer's Corner".

The Obvious – At home games, Pete Carroll has started a successful, growing tradition called the "Trojan Walk", where the team is dropped off near the peristyle end of the Coliseum and walks the distance through a spirit tunnel of support groups, alumni, and fans.

The Not So Obvious – Since 1960, Auburn players walk from Sewell Hall to the stadium. As many as 20,000 fans have lined the street as players walk by. For those lucky Trojan fans making the trip, the "walk" is about two hours before game time.

The Obvious – Before every Trojan home game in the Coliseum, the Trojans stop at the entrance to the tunnel and do an orchestrated spirit huddle-rally before running on to the field.

The Not So Obvious – Since the 2000 season, Auburn has entered the field from the middle south end zone through a cloud of smoke. Trojan fans will also be treated to the song "Eye of the Tiger".

The Obvious –. This opener will be a classic match between USC offensive guru Norm Chow and Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

The Not So Obvious – Of Chow, Chizik says, "He (Chow) has a great, great understanding of what he's looking for to try to take advantage of defenses." Auburn coach Tuberville adds, " Norm Chow does a great job of game-planning his talent against your talent.

The Obvious – As mentioned, one of the major keys to the game will be ball control and clock management with the lead, something that took center stage last year in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – In the Trojans win last year against the Tigers, it should be noted that time of possession favored Troy 34:28 to 25:32.

The Obvious – Auburn returns eight starters on both offense and defense while the Trojans return 14 starters, six each on offense and defense, including both kickers.

The Not So Obvious - With many of the same performers on defense for Troy and many of the same performers on offense for Auburn from last year's game in Los Angeles, the belief here is if Carroll's defense can keep it close in the first half and the inexperienced backfield doesn't self-destruct early, the Trojans have a chance to get their first regular season win in the South since an opening day win at Tennessee (20-17) in 1980.

The Obvious – Auburn makes no secret that their intent on offense is to shove the ball right down the Trojans' throat with a vaunted rushing attack featuring All-America candidate Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith, and big Brandon Jacobs.

The Not So Obvious - If there is any doubt about the offensive philosophy of Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville, just ask the coach who says, "Since Ole Miss, we've built our philosophy around running the football. You've got to have a running game in order to be successful in college football."

The Obvious – Good news reached the Trojan football program recently when it was announced that Traveler, USC's fabled all-white equine mascot, who is pure Spanish Andalusian, would return roam the Coliseum floor.

The Not So Obvious – While Traveler will not be at Auburn Saturday, neither will the Auburn eagle mascots. Sadly, an outbreak of Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a potentially deadly pathogen, has both eagle mascots, Tiger and Spirit, grounded in poor health. Normally circling Jordan-Hare Stadium prior to the game, there was not enough time to train a new bird for the current season. In place of the mascots, there will four U.S. Marine Harrier jets will fly over the stadium in pregame ceremonies. Three of the pilots are Auburn grads.

The Obvious – Trojan Coach Pete Carroll is considered one of the best defensive minds at any level of football and has the Super Bowl and Orange Bowl rings to prove it.

The Not So Obvious – Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville, who begins his fifth year at Auburn and was once an assistant at Miami for three national championship clubs, is considered a master of the rushing game. Tuberville coached NFL first-rounders Deuce McAllister and John Avery at Ole Miss and 2000 SEC player of the Year Rudi Johnson at Auburn.

The Obvious – Trojan starting fullback Brandon Hancock will not play this Saturday and that leaves it up to physical Crenshaw junior Lee Webb to handle the assignment.

The Not So Obvious – Webb has made no bones about wanting to compete and carry the football. The kid likes to mix it up and may very well play a factor, especially in the red zone. The bigger question is the spot behind Webb. Perhaps the number change with Whitney Lewis (No. 4) will inspire the young freshman to give a St. Bonaventure performance in front of a national audience. If not Lewis, look for the deput of David Kirtman, state of Washington native.

The Obvious – Returning the USC Trojans as one of college football's most storied programs, Pete Carroll is now being called one of the best coaches in the country and has become a media darling.

The Not So Obvious – In football crazy Alabama, Mobile Register columnist Paul Finebaum decided to rank the coaches of the SEC. Of Auburn Coach Tuberville, who Finebaum ranks 4th in his ranking of coaches, the columnist writes, "This is another fascinating season for a man who has spent most of his time at Auburn getting on and off the hot seat. Clearly, the finish to last season enabled Tuberville some breathing room, to say nothing of a lucrative contract. However, Tub is now faced with dealing with huge expectations, not only from his own fans, but the suddenly adoring national media."

The Obvious – Which team is in better physical shape to promote their offense in the second half will likely decide the contest.

The Not So Obvious – In the best of scenarios, the Trojans control the ball, make no turnovers, and get their second wind in the fourth quarter. Believe it or not, the Auburn rushing attack may benefit the Trojans by eating up the clock and making it a shorter game, making the weather a lesser factor. Since Auburn figures to run, run, run, and the Trojans figure to use a ball control passing game along with the run, this could be one of the shorter games of the season, except, of course, when the dreaded red-gloved TV timeout man trots onto the field.

The Obvious – In the ball control game this figures to be, the Trojan's punter Tom Malone, he of the bazooka leg, could have as big an effect on the game as anybody and the performance of kicker Ryan Killeen will be critical.

The Not So Obvious – While the Trojans figure to have a big punting advantage thanks to Malone, the Tigers will be starting freshman Michael Gibson. For the Trojans, kicker Ryan Killeen had some good moments in away games at UCLA and in the Orange Bowl, but also had some low moments, especially at Washington State. The same could be true of Auburn junior kicker Philip Yost, who has given up his spot this Saturday to true freshman John Vaughn on field goal attempts inside of 45 yards. Special team performers for both clubs could give the performance of a lifetime, or they could very well turn into a comedy of errors.

The Obvious – Much will be said during the game on CBS about the experience of Norm Chow in these types of environments and the inexperience of Trojan QB Matt Leinart.

The Not So Obvious – Auburn has a new offensive coordinator in Hugh Nall, promoted from offensive line coach. His approach is near the same as Turberville, and this bodes well for junior quarterback Jason Campbell, who appeared last year against the Trojans and went on during the balance of the season in keeping defenses honest with controlled type passes. Coming out of high school. Campbell was considered by some as one of the five top quarterbacks in the country.

The Obvious – Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville feels that his revamped secondary will be very good down the road, but feels inexperience of this group will be tested severely by Norm Chow.

The Not So Obvious – Simply put, there are few arguments that the inexperienced Tiger secondary is a potential weakness, especially against Trojan catchers Mike Williams and Keary Colbert. The Auburn secondary, which is led by hard-hitting safety Junior Rosegreen (6-0,185), will be under attack from Trojan lefty quarterback Matt Leinart, who will be throwing to perhaps the nation's premier receiving duo. The feeling here is if Leinart doesn't get rattled early, offensive coordinator Norm Chow will take the inexperienced Leinart by the hand, and the Trojans should find holes in the Tiger secondary.

The Obvious – Star senior tight end Alex Holmes will not play on Saturday and his senior season is in doubt, so much so that the redshirt word is being quietly mentioned.

The Not So Obvious - Don't discount the possibility that starting sophomore tight end Dominique Byrd shines in the national spotlight. The kid has been super in practice and is a genuine threat.

The Obvious – Perhaps the biggest interior battle of the game will be USC's Wild Bunch ll and the veteran Auburn offensive line, which returns four starters that delivered heavy rushing punishment to the Trojans last year in the first half at the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – Having rushed for 140 yards last year in the Coliseum, this year's Tiger line doesn't lack confidence when discussing blocking for their vaunted running backs. One of the leaders of the Auburn offensive line is star right guard Monreko Crittenden (6-5, 350) who says, "If we need to pass, we're not doing something right."

The Obvious – Last season, running backs Carnell Williams (5-11, 204) and Ronnie Brown (6-1, 223) combined for more than 1,700 yards rushing, despite the fact that Williams' season was cut short when he suffered a knee injury against Florida.

The Not So Obvious – While Trojans fans will be watching the progress of interior defensive linemen Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson in their effort to contain the middle of the Auburn offensive line, all Trojan eyes should be focused on sophomore middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (6-0,225), who figures to be a major player in the Trojans defense of the Auburn rushing attack.

The Obvious – The Trojan offensive line is being called one of the best in the United States and return four of five starters from last season's 11-2 team.

The Not So Obvious – It will be the ultimate test for the Carson Palmer-less offense. Can this offensive line handle the vaunted defensive front seven of Auburn. With eight starters returning on defense for the Tigers, positive work by center Norm Katnik and physical guard play by Fred Matua and Lenny Vandermade on Tiger linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas will be crucial if the Trojans hope to pull this baby out.

The Obvious – Trojan left tackle Jacob Rogers, who has been challenged by a leg injury during summer camp, is being touted as an All-American and future high NFL draft pick.

The Not So Obvious – Rogers will get a great chance to showcase his mettle when he is matched up with the Tigers' touted right end Reggie Torbor (6-3, 242), who is in his fourth year has a starter. Torbor had a team-high 12 quarterback sacks last season and is extremely quick off the snap.

The Obvious –The Trojans will be making one of their very rare appearances on CBS as they are generally associated over the years with the ABC network, which does both national and Pac-10 games.

The Not So Obvious –Auburn's CBS television record is 13-16. For those that must prepare themselves, CBS will offer veteran Vern Lundquist, Todd Blackledge, and Jill Arrington as commentators - not a bad crew for the viewers back home.

The Obvious – Those CBS cameras will certainly do their share of sending out "Honey Shots" of the famed USC Song Girls, who will be put to the heat test by wearing their traditional white sweaters. Talk about being in condition for heat and humidity. White sweaters in humidit; now there is a test.

The Not So Obvious – Not to be neglected, Auburn will showcase their song girls, better known around these parts as the "Tiger Paw Dancers", who are selected each spring by audition.

The Obvious –USC viewers in Southern California can watch the Auburn game on Channel 2 beginning at 3:00 p.m.

The Not So Obvious – And for those that need a distraction from commericals and wish to keep tabs on the rest of the Pac-10 tube action, it should noted that ABC carries Washington at Ohio State (Ch 7, 5:00 p.m ) and ESPN2 provides Oregon at Mississippi State at 6:00p.m (PST).

The Obvious – It's a good bet that CBS will mention the USC's five Heisman Trophy winning trophies that now grace Heritage Hall.

The Not So Obvious – Auburn has their own version of Heritage Hall called Lovelace Museum, which no doubt makes mention of the two Heisman winners of the Tigers. Perhaps you don't remember Pat Sullivan, but maybe Bo Jackson?

The Obvious – The Obvious and The Not So Obvious will have the Auburn game analysis, notes, and commentary on Sunday.

The Not So Obvious – A quick reminder that all Sunday game stories and analysis will now appear on the premium subscribers' site. The Thursday game previews during the season will remain on the normal non-subscriber site.

The Obvious – The USC Trojans have not won a national championship since 1978 and last went to the Rose Bowl in 1996 , and Auburn has not won the SEC since 1989.

The Not So Obvious – So, with two teams that both have high national and conference expectations , there will be more than just the heat of the weather to start the 2003 campaign, It's safe to say that moments before kick-off and the team huddled around, Pete Carroll will simply tell his Trojans it's time to "Bring it on!"


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