Just another day getting ready for the Rose Bowl. And an early start. Before 8 a.m., they're moving into the LA Hotel Downtown with Penn State up first, then USC. We'll take you along with us for neat morning with a couple of good groups of young men. Lots going on here.
*** They're passing out rosters since neither of these teams, in their game jerseys, have their names on the back. Not many like that any more. There's a lot alike about these two programs and a lot to like.
*** PSU QB Trace McSorley is the only Penn State player with a baseball cap on and a big tattoo of Psalm 3:24 on his left biceps.He's seating on a raised platform right next to the Big Ten Network roundtable of pundits. No Pac-12 Network setup here. Insert your own joke. Although Yogi Roth doing a heck of a job running around getting interviews, including one with his coach at Pitt, Joe Moorhead, now Penn State's offensive coordinator.
*** The 45:00 clock is ticking away in the background. USC will be here at 9:30.
*** Star Penn State tailback Saquon Barkley is talking up the USC defense from his elevated perch: " . . .big nose tackle . . . great linebackers . . . then there's Adoree' Jackson . . . I'm excited to be going against an offense like that."
*** First Rose Bowl Saquon remembers? "Reggie Bush vs. Vince Young, or was it Matt Leinart vs. Vince Young? Definitely USC vs. Texas" from 11 years ago when he was 8.
*** "Break down the coverage quickly and get your hands up," is linebacker Brandon Bell's prescription for dealing with the quick release of USC's Sam Darnold.
*** Much larger Pennsylvania media crew here today. They have arrived.
*** One thing we always like to do when we get to see an entire opponent team for the first time is to assess their general look. Penn State is not one of those squatty-body Big Ten team of a decade or more ago. This Nittany Lions team has 21 guys 6-4 or above on their two-deep. That includes two 6-6's, two 6-7's and a 6-8 guy. USC by comparison has 19 guys 6-4 or above but at 6-9, Zach Banner is the biggest here.
*** For PSU Coach James Franklin, the world of college football "is not like it was 25 years ago when you said 'Jump' and they jumped . . . it's much more about relationships now."
*** Franklin said he checked Sam Darnold out when he "saw him up close at Disney . . . he's a typical big, strong pro-style quarterback who makes quick decisions with a big arm but the more you watch him, you see how he can extend plays . . . like an Aaron Rodgers . . . he can do that . . . you have to have that now . . . and he's very accurate."
*** They're doing photos for the players posing with roses -- and the Rose Bowl trophy in the other corner. Very popular deal . . . they can edit their own photos.
*** Franklin talking about his kickoff guy, 5-10, 258-pound Joey Julius -- "one of the most physical kickers in college football."
*** And finally, Franklin talks about finally having a home-field advantage at Penn State after coming from Vanderbilt and how he's trying to extend the "white-out" conditions to the Rose Bowl, suggesting the plus-300-pound-pound former footballer now host at the Big Ten Network would look great in an "all-white leisure suit" for the game.
*** And finally, after talking to Penn State safety Marcus Allen, the hero of the Ohio State win with the field goal block to turn it around, we found out that for his whole life, he's been answering questions about "the real Marcus Allen" and does he know USC's Marcus Allen. So we got USC's Marcus on the phone for him and handed it to him. USC's Marcus opened by telling PSU's Marcus that people always ask him if Marcus is his son and that he's been pulling for him to keep the name going strong. "That's one of the coolest things ever," young Marcus said as he handed the phone back, "the coolest thing. Thanks." Turns out Marcus has a connection to running backs. NFL great Curtis Martin is his godfather.
*** And by 8:45, Penn State is quietly out of here. And just before 9:30, there's a commotion with plenty of excitement in the lobby -- or actually the escalator from the lobby to the ballroom. There's noise and shouting and USC players flying off the escalator. And it's not just enthusiasm. It's a case of one more hotel not able to handle the load when Zach Banner & Co. get on and the escalator goes down under the strain. "We do that at almost every hotel we go to," senior Matt Lopes says.
*** Making it worse, however, was that in the rush to get the escalator re-started, they put it in reverse for a bit so the USC players were literally going up the down staircase. "I don't like escalators and elevators," Banner said as he made use of the two towels to wipe off the sweat after he got to his podium. No, we corrected Zach, after two cuts of prime beef at Lawry's and all the side dishes, it's the other way around: "Escalators don't like you."
*** For Zach, it's his fifth bowl at USC, starting with that infamous 2011 Sun Bowl. "It's insane how fast it's gone. It seems like it was yesterday."
*** Said he thinks this USC team "has done it the right way" for the bowl prep stuff. Talked about how "this freshman class has a lot of talent" that's showing up now mentioning Pie Young and Jamel Cook and Frank Martin. And that if the game day weather is cold and damp, it won't be a problem at all, he says. "I'm from Tacoma, Wash."
*** Adoree' was asked by a Pennsylvania media person if he would play offense Monday: "I would hope so." He's not the only one. And he agreed with the Penn State offensive philosophy when they throw the ball up for grabs in their downfield passing game where there are no "50-50 balls, just 100-zero balls." Said Adoree': "I would hope so. That's our mindset. They should always thin they're going to catch every ball. I always think I'm going to intercept every ball."
*** Matt Lopes can leave after this season but the redshirt junior says he may be leaning to coming back for another season. And is he ever enjoying his seventh or eight Rose Bowl. As the son of Senior Associate AD Steve Lopes, he's had the good fortune to literally grow up with the Rose Bowl but this is his first as a player. "It's been awesome."
*** For senior Leon McQuay, he won't be coming back. And yes, he is enjoying it here. His favorite part of Rose Bowl week? "The practices," Leon says. "I've really been enjoying them. They're my last-ever practices. I'm enjoying every minute of them."
*** This is a family," Clay Helton says, dressed in a suit and tie in contrast to Franklin's khakis and coaching shirt. "This is our last opportunity for this family to do this . . . we're enjoying ourselves . . . it's been hilarious, the jokes they play on one another, much like any family."
*** Peppering his talk with words like "trust" and "care," Clay does not forget to mention how a win for this USC team "would be historic. And that's what the Rose Bowl is about, history . . . Just think about what these guys have accomplished."
*** Part of that family is redshirt freshman Roy Hemsley, who at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, looks the part of a left tackle in waiting now that Tee Martin has singled him out for impressive work the last couple of weeks. "Thank you," Roy says. He's figuring things out, he says, and knows what an opportunity there is for him playing behind two standout tackles who are leaving. He says he's "pretty settled on left tackle now," and the difference is that he "understands the physicality of college football. You have to embrace it."
*** And finally, maneuvering his way through the crowd on his crutches is special teams coach John Baxter. He'll show you a photo of his recent surgery with the torn quad and patellar tendon being repaired in all its gory splendor. And he'll tell you that the single thing that bothered him most the couple of years he was away from USC is that he couldn't show and say "Fight On" . . . "It's the best motto in all of sports," he says. "It defines everything." And applies to everybody. To his mother and the tough cancer battle she's been fighting back in Chicago and to her beloved Chicago Cubs, whose World Series win she got to watch with her son. And to this USC football team. It's all about "Fighting On."
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