Where to start. Pick a place. Pick a player. So many ways to look. So many second take possibilities.
*** Going to be interesting where USC -- and Penn State, for that matter, finish up in the final polls. No question they both should have been in the playoffs now in hindsight after most of the bowl games have been played, if playoff selection were to pick the top four teams at the end of the season. Which is certainly how the polls should also work. And no question in Alabama and Clemson, you have a clear 1-2 pairing separate from everyone else right now. Then it's USC and Penn State No. 3 and No. 4. USC replaces Washington in the top four. No question about that. They played. In Seattle. USC was clearly superior. And still is. The same for Penn State vis-a-vis Ohio State. They played. Penn State won. Case closed on the Buckeyes after the 31-0 shutout by Clemson. No way they belonged in the playoffs or ahead of USC or Penn State in any poll. Would like to see an autopsy among the College Football Playoff Selection Committee as to how this happened. How did they get an Ohio State team that can't throw the ball to save their lives ranked so highly? If you don't have Alabama's defense, you have to be able to pass the ball. It's 2017, folks. Get with it. And get USC and Penn State No. 3 and 4 in the final rankings. Chances are they'll be there at the end of 2017 with the young stars returning -- Trace McSorley, Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki and Saquon Barkley for the Nittany Lions and Sam Darnold, Deontay Burnett, Ronald Jones and Cameron Smith for USC.
*** How about the way Smith. USC's sophomore inside linebacker ejected in the third quarter on a 50-50 targeting call that probably did not support ejection with first contact to the shoulder pads? How does this feel? Could he enjoy it the way the rest of his teammates were? "Absolutely," Cam said. "I'm very happy for my teammates. And I'm happy for Quinton Powell who went in there for me and got to make some plays." The senior Quinton was happy too about the chance to make some plays. "I had to, man. Thank you for noticing."
*** One thing that playing in the Pac-12 prepares a team for is the kind of inconsistent officiating that an unsure, indecisive ACC crew provided. Looking for penalties that aren't there like the wrong call that negated that Deontay Burnett touchdown until replay review and missing ones that are -- you know, like holding and obvious offensive pass interference or the phantom late hit where Uchenna Nwosu avoided the pile with no contact at all -- and that was after review. And no holding on all those Barkley runs and McSorley scrambles. And before that last USC TD-scoring drive, USC had 10 penalties to Penn State's three? Really? Hopefully the sheepish looks that the crew had as they hustled off the field signified that they knew they hadn't brought their "A game" to one of the great college football games of all time. Or maybe that was their "A game" and there's a place in the Pac-12 for them. The thing that drives you crazy when watching these kinds of performances is the fact that these guys are the best each conference has or they wouldn't be here. Which as we've said time and again, just isn't good enough.
*** Did Darnold's 2017 Heisman Trophy campaign start last night? We asked that question first after the Washington game. So clearly it has started. But did Sam move up to the head of the class with a 473-yard total offense effort against Penn State, eclipsing the 467 yards Vince Young racked up in that 2006 game USC fans would like to forget. Based on the reaction on virtually every fan site in America, as well as the national media who hadn't seen Sam in person for a full game, he definitely did. Because against Penn State, on a day when USC could barely run the ball at all, Sam was pretty much all the Trojans had. And if there was any doubt -- in a game that wasn't actually Sam's sharpest effort -- that five-play, 80-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in 39 seconds made it clear. This guy can play and he has all the weapons from arm to feet to head and heart. He's cool customer and a fiery leader at the same time.
BY THE NUMBERS
*** 15: 10-5. USC suffered double the penalties of Penn State. The ACC guys looked like they either had an agenda -- or just as likely, no clue. You pick. Maybe both. We'll take "both." But when the focus should be on a great game, it was often on the replay/review process.
*** 95,128: An over-capacity Rose Bowl crowd this game certainly justified. And maybe a hundred of those folks were carrying submachine guns, it seemed, now that every large gathering has to look to head off any possible terror plot. Looks like the numbers say no one was deterred from showing up.
*** 101: The total points in this game didn't just shatter the old record of 83 in the 2012 Oregon-Wisconsin game it blasted it to smithereens. Totally. And with no overtime.
*** 13-164-3: Deontay Burnett has been USC's top receiver for a good while now but his career-high totals of 13 receptions, 164 yards and three touchdowns made that about as clear as you could possibly hope it could be. .
*** 18 of 25: With his hits from 22, 44 and 46 yards and misses from 49 and 51 yards out, Matt Boermeester finished the season hitting on 18 of 25 and of course, the most important one of them all.
*** 21-50: After giving up a mere 50 points in the second quarter in its first 12 games, USC allowed Penn State 21 in the second on Monday. .
*** 79, 72: Barkley's sensational 79-yard TD run was the longest run USC allowed from scrimmage all season and the McSorley-to-Chris Godwin 72-yard TD pass was the longest reception USC allowed all season. The goal to stop Penn State's explosive plays didn't exactly work out, even if the final score did.
*** 2 of 3: We thought we had the scouting reports nailed on two of the three Penn State offensive stars. McSorley, with his positives and negatives, was the scrappy competitor we anticipated. And Barkley, with those feet, that cutting ability and that combination of quickness and top-end speed at 223 pounds was, we thought, the best running back in the nation that he proved to be. But wide receiver Chris Godwin, in person, played much bigger than his listed 6-1 and 205 pounds, was faster and more skilled than we, and this USC defense, expected.
*** 164-133: For the first time all season, USC had a pair of receivers top 100 yards in the same game with Burnett's 164 and JuJu Smith-Schuster's 133 [on seven catches]. JuJu moves into No. 4 all-time on the USC receiving list with 213 after the Rose Bowl where he had a season-high in receiving yards for him.
*** 25-8: USC's official all-time Rose Bowl record. No one else is even close. Overall Bowl record 34-17. Also the best [.667] for any team with 20 or more bowl appearances.
*** 8: Might not seem like a great big number for team-high tackles but for a nose tackle like Stevie Tu’ikolavatu, it was exactly what this USC team needed in the middle. Rasheem Green recorded five more to give USC frontliners two of the top three tacklers. Safety Leon McQuay's seven were second best..
*** 7 for 7: Hard to believe when you check out the official drive chart for the second and third quarters for Penn State and note the finish for each possession: "Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown." Only halftime intervened. And this for the team that lost the game. Unbelievable.
*** 10 for 10: That was Sam's passing stat sheet in the fourth quarter. They don't count the spike against the QB so he was perfect.
THEY SAID IT
CLAY HELTON: "I'm just very happy for a group of seniors that I've had the good fortune to be with for four and five years . . . to watch these guys grow up, to watch them mature. I think of guys like Mike Hutchings who is our senior captain and the roller-coaster ride he's been on and our seniors have been on and they just kept on fighting. Now they guided us to a Rose Bowl game and not only the Rose Bowl game but a Victory Bell and a Shillelagh. Some special, special memories throughout the year."
PENN STATE COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: "I want to give USC and Coach Helton credit because that's a great football team . . . Then the other thing, you've got to give their O-line credit. We have really had a lot of success this year getting pressure to people's quarterbacks and getting sacks. We had a hard time getting to them."
USC DB/KR/PR/WR/RB ADOREE" JACKSON: "I didn't finish the game but it felt like I did..”
USC LB MICHAEL HUTCHINGS: On the late game stops for the US defense "The guys were playing for pride at that point . . . we knew we still had a chance . . . Coach Helton kept saying give me one more chance [for the offense] . . . all we tried to do was give them a chance."
Adoree' suffered a high ankle sprain that looked worse than it turned out. Said he got his ankle re-taped and was thinking about going back in but when he tried to run, found out that the time out of the game caught up with him. "The adrenaline was gone and I just couldn't go," he said. He'll take a week off, he said, and then get back at it. Whether that's getting ready for the NFL Draft or spring track, he wouldn't say. "I'm not thinking about that now." He was thinking that he was going out to celebrate "with my boys," he said, "and I never go out." So how bad could it be? He patiently stood and answered every question to the very end and posed for fan photos in the tunnel on the ankle.
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