Obvious/Not-So-Obvious - ASU preview

The heat of the Rose Bowl race turns Tempe red-hot as the No.10 USC Trojans (3-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-10) travel to Arizona State (2-2, 0-1) for Saturday's probable Pasadena elimination conference game, a game whose loser may very well descend into the depths of a Pac-10's deep freeze.

The Obvious – The heat of the Rose Bowl race turns Tempe red-hot as the No.10 USC Trojans (3-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-10) travel to Arizona State (2-2, 0-1) for Saturday's probable Pasadena elimination conference game, a game whose loser may very well descend into the depths of a Pac-10's deep freeze.

The Not So Obvious – Despite the triple overtime loss last Saturday at Cal probably ending any USC national championship hopes, Trojan receiver Mike Williams knows all was not sunk in the San Francisco Bay. "If a shot at the Rose Bowl is the worst-case scenario for us, I'll take it. We're not in the driver's seat anymore, but it doesn't mean we got kicked out of the car."

The Obvious – The Trojans opened up as an 11-point favorite over the disappointing Sun Devils.

The Not So Obvious – Although the Sun Devils have appeared in five bowl games in seven years, apparently the folks that pay for play still think that the Trojans are still a top drawer team and are willing to put their points where their wallets are.

The Obvious – There is little question that the winner of Saturday's game still entertains the dream of playing in Pasadena's Rose Bowl on New Years Day.

The Not So Obvious – No doubt about it, with an opening conference loss to Cal, the Trojans will be fighting history to make it to Pasadena. No team has won the Pac-10 after losing its first two conference games. Only Washington (2000) and UCLA (1993) have done it after losing their opener.

The Obvious – The Trojans finished the month of September with a respectable 3-1 record and No.10 national ranking.

The Not So Obvious – If there is a good reason for Carroll and his Trojans to feel optimistic about Saturday's game at ASU, it should be noted that in the month of October, USC has a record of 268-104-19 (.710).

The Obvious – Leading into this week, one wonders if the USC aura and intimidation is still there, especially the perception of the once invincible USC defense and touted Wild Bunch.

The Not So Obvious – The Wild Bunch and Carroll's defense may have had a bit of the glow dimmed by California's 469 yards in offense, but don't try to sell Arizona State quarterback on the demise of Udeze, Cody, Patterson, and Nazel. Walter said, "Their front four is awesome, and they have a coach who is going to call a great game. They have great speed. We'll have to see what Cal did to them, but USC is definitely attack style. I would assume they would come at us just like Oregon State and they make plays."

The Obvious – While the Trojans have had to regroup this week in practice, a week that Pete Carroll senses a determined attitude in anticipation of the their trip to Arizona State, the Sun Devils are well aware that the Trojan passing game remains a major threat.

The Not So Obvious – Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter has great respect for Trojan receivers Keary Colbert and Mike Williams, especially Colbert. This week Koetter said, "Our secondary is the key. Colbert has been a solid receiver, just smaller than Williams. He (Colbert) may as good as anybody up and down the West Coast."

The Obvious – There has been a lot of debate over the problems of the USC rushing attack. Is it the running backs not hitting the holes or is it the lack of determination from a veteran offensive line?

The Not So Obvious – According to Sun Devil coach Koetter, there is one area of the offensive line not open to debate. Koetter commented, "With the offensive tackles (Jacob Rogers and Winston Justice) they have, you don't see quality like that on a team very often." Koetter will probably not initially see Justice with Rogers as Winston is not slated to start due to his right ankle sprain. John Drake is expected to start in place of Justice.

The Obvious – The Trojans won't have to deal with All-America defensive end Terrell Suggs, who has "graduated" to the NFL.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans handled Suggs quite nicely last year in the Coliseum as USC hammered ASU 34-13. The real loss for the Sun Devils that does have an effect on Saturday is the graduation of fleet receiver Shaun McDonald, whose departure to the NFL has as much to do with quarterback Walter's inconsistencies as anything.

The Obvious – Before the season, Saturday's game had all the marks of a titanic match as both teams figured to be undefeated heading into Saturday's contest.

The Not So Obvious – Even ABC saw it that way scheduling the game long before the season commenced for a regional audience.

The Obvious – ASU quarterback Andrew Walter figures to take a page out of the Cal play book to see if the Trojans' secondary has remedied their breakdowns from last week.
The Not So Obvious – The Trojans aren't the only secondary on Saturday trying to shore up some holes. ASU, too, has some issues and has elected to start junior corner Chris McKenzie, a Queens, N.Y. native, who will make his first start and is the fastest player on the Sun Devil roster.

The Obvious – While the Trojans' offensive line has had a problem with maintaining a consistent rushing attack, they have done well, for the most part, of keeping defenses off Mat Leinart in passing situations.

The Not So Obvious – ASU may not have a marquee player on their defensive line this season, but the Sun Devils are second in the Pac-10 in sacks with 18 behind Washington State's 20.

The Obvious – The Trojans have one player from Arizona on their roster in senior snapper Matt Hayward from Glendale.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devils have 18 players from the Los Angeles area among 40 total from California.

The Obvious – The Trojans had great success and response last season by returning to their throwback home and away uniforms from the 1960's.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devils have new home and away uniforms this season. The new home uniform features the same helmet and pants as last year, but the jersey features more gold in the form of a "saber" on each side. In addition, the "Arizona State" is much bigger than the previous "Sun Devil" moniker. Coach Koetter's wife, Kim, was part of the committee that recommended the changes.

The Obvious – The Trojans have won 11 of the past 12 games heading into their second Pac-10 game.

The Not So Obvious – ASU has lost its last games handily at Iowa and Oregon State. In the loss to Iowa, the Sun Devils were hurt by Hawkeye quarterback Nathan Chandler, who was a frequent visitor to Trojan practices when he attended Pasadena City College.

The Obvious – Trojan punter Tom Malone leads the nation in punting with a 49.6 yard average.

The Not So Obvious – Malone's private punter is former ASU 1997 All-Pac-10 first-team punter Marcus Williams.

The Obvious - The Trojans returned four offensive line starters from last year's balanced powerhouse.

The Not So Obvious – ASU returned all five offensive line starters. This is a unit that has lots of depth and versatility.

The Obvious – Coach Pete Carroll said this week the rushing problem lies more with the young running backs hitting the holes than with Coach Davis' offensive line.

The Not So Obvious – While Hershel Dennis has lately seemed more tentative at the point of attack and ballyhooed Reggie Bush continues to make a difficult game day transition, the one back that is emerging as the most intriguing is powerful freshman LenDale White, the Sam Cunningham running clone. The feeling here is that White might be on the verge of seeing extensive action because he attacks the hole in the same manner as Justin Fargas.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll stood by strong safety Darnell Bing after the Cal secondary debacle defending the freshman over not getting help with some blown assignments.

The Not So Obvious – Don't expect a change, but the feeling here that the best complete tailback in the program is….. Darnell Bing. It has been said here many times that he is Eddie George in cardinal and gold. As of now, Bing is a great athlete in the secondary, but his inexperience will be tested again severely by the Sun Devils' passing attack. Bing as a tailback would no longer be just a great athlete, but he would be the best combination of all the fine young backs already in the program.

The Obvious – Both Pete Carroll and Dirk Koetter are in their third seasons at the helm of USC and Arizona State, respectively.

The Not So Obvious – Pete Carroll is 2-0 against Koetter, and Carroll's Trojans have outscored Koetter's Sun Devils 82-30. Of course, both Trojan wins came at the Coliseum.

The Obvious – This will be the Trojans' first visit to Tempe and Sun Devil Stadium (73,379) since 2000, and the second in the last six meetings.

The Not So Obvious – In their early visits to Sun Devil Stadium, the large facility was the whammy for the Trojans like Candlestick Park used to be for the Dodgers. The series is now tied 5-5 in games played in Tempe.

The Obvious – The Trojans' Wild Bunch defense will try to rebound from the fireworks the Cal offense displayed last Saturday in USC's 34-31 heartbreak loss.

The Not So Obvious – Speaking of fireworks, following each Sun Devil score, ASU fans are treated to fireworks. Sun Devil teams under Koetter have averaged 33 points per game to "light up" the skies, but this year's 19.3 offense is currently just a couple of Piccolo Petes.

The Obvious – Sun Devil Stadium (73,379), home of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, has a grass playing surface.

The Not So Obvious – In 2002, the NFL voted Sun Devil Stadium's playing surface as second-best in the country. The stadium has also hosted four national championship games and one Super Bowl.

The Obvious – The Trojans recently lost a famous alum with the passing of comedian John Ridder, one of many famous stars that have attended Tommy Trojanville.

The Not So Obvious – Three of ASU's more famous alumni include ABC sportscaster Al Michaels, actor David Spade, and talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel.

The Obvious – The Trojans have intercepted a pass in each of the last 14 games.

The Not So Obvious – ASU quarterback Andrew Walter should be wary of the Trojans' interception streak considering the rocket-armed thrower had 3 interceptions last week in the Oregon State loss.

The Obvious – There are some that believe the Pac-10 is down this year, and this could effect any BCI ranking come bowl time.

The Not So Obvious – USA Today's Jeff Sagarin, who is part of the BCS computer ratings, says the Pac-10 is the nation's second-best conference behind the Southeastern.

The Obvious – The weather in Tempe has been extremely hot the past several weeks, and the Trojans will be heading into the teeth of the heat as the game will kickoff at 12:30 p.m.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans may be catching a needed break this weekend as the forecast is only for 95 degrees and sunny. Take out the Auburn humidity factor, which didn't seem to phase the Trojans in August, and weather should not be an issue.

The Obvious – Of all the teams in the conference, Arizona State is the Pac-10's biggest question mark considering all the preseason buildup.

The Not So Obvious – Coach Koetter believes his team is on the verge of putting it back together. He told Fox Sports in Arizona that his nationally heralded quarterback Andrew Walter has been the victim dropped passes, wrong routes by his receivers, and not reading through his progressions.

The Obvious – The Trojans were burned at Cal by a hot running back named Achimchinobe Echemandu, who ran for mucho (147) yards against the highly-publicized Trojan defense.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans best be cautious of new starting running back Hakim Hill (6-0, 210, Soph.), who had a great game with 155 yards rushing and 92 receiving in a 45-17 loss to Oregon State. Hill is a very talented player from Iowa City and has been "adjusting" both on and off the field.

The Obvious – Trojan quarterback Matt Lineart has a sprained medial-collateral ligament on his knee and a slightly strained groin, and Pete Carroll says that junior Matt Cassel is next in line should an immediate change be implemented.

The Not So Obvious – You can bet that Leinart will play for no other reason than doesn't want Cassel or any other Trojan signal-caller having a successful audition against the Sun Devils.

The Obvious – Like it or not, fair or unfair, Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart will become a focal point of the Trojan offensive woes if SC should drop another game.

The Not So Obvious –Beginning with game one at Auburn, Leinart has become very consistent in flawless to interception pattern. In the past four games, the lefty's line score reads 0-3-0-3. If the pattern holds, Leinart should not be intercepted on Saturday.

The Obvious - Speaking of backup quarterbacks, Pete Carroll met with junior quarterback Brandon Hance to clear the air over Hance's comments about the jersey number incident which earlier saw the Trojan coach give freshman Whitney Lewis Hance's No. 4, a number that Hance has worn throughout his playing career.

The Not So Obvious – As Scott "Sherlock" Wolf reported in the Daily News, Hance cleared the air with Carroll. However, it is quite curious that Hance had to clear the air when it wasn't his decision to switch jersey numbers in the first place. No getting around it, the jersey issue had the smell of politics written all over it.

The Obvious – The Trojans are looking at Mission Viejo all-purpose athlete Marty Tadman, perhaps Orange County's best player besides Los Alamitos' Randy Estes.

The Not So Obvious – For you oldie folks, Tadman would remind you in play and spirit of Mike Battle, who was a All-America safety for the Trojans in the mid-60s. Tadman is a warrior and here's hoping he gets a good look from Trojan coaches. See for yourself live or on replay as he and his Mission Viejo teammates battle Long Beach Poly on Fox Sports Net 2 tonight (Thursday). Akey matchup could occur with Tadman defending Trojan wide receiver recruit Derrick Jones of Poly.

The Obvious – Saturday's game at Tempe will be televised on ABC at 12:30 p,m, with "Woah Nellie" and Dan Fouts.

The Not So Obvious – In another Pac-10 tube tingler, Washington visits UCLA (FSN, 3:30 p.m.).

The Obvious – The Trojans picked up their recruiting of Fountain Valley lineman Leo Talavou.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans recently offered the FV lineman, who follows in the legacy of such linemen as Bryan Caldwell (whose son Kyle is at Arizona State, his father's alma mater), Duval "Bubba" Love, and Brad Leggett, a former Trojan offensive lineman.

The Obvious – Despite the tough loss at Cal, the Trojans remain in the hunt for many of the nation's premiere high school nuggets.

The Not So Obvious – Arizona State has 15 recruits from five states attending Saturday's game taking advantage of the Trojans' star power.

The Obvious – In last season's glorious ride, the Trojans' crossroad game was the great comeback against the California Bears in the Coliseum that launched USC's return to glory.

The Not So Obvious – Saturday's game appears to be much the same scenario as last year's Cal game that saw the Trojans trying to rebound from a devastating overtime loss at Washington State. In the wacky world of Pac-10 football, the 2003 USC season may be a Yogi Berra déjà vu all over again and Trojan fans certainly hope so.

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