Unfortunately for these two talented clubs, only one gets to represent the Pac Ten at the Grand Daddy of all bowl games and that most probably will be decided on the Coliseum floor, this coming Saturday.
For the average fan, with all those similarities listed above, it would probably be very difficult to find the differences between the teams to pick a winner. But, gifted with a pair of remarkable Rose-colored glasses, passed down from my father to me in my 17th year, the picture becomes all too clear...
Washington State has lost just one game, against Notre Dame. USC treated Notre Dame just like they did last year - beating them like an ugly, red-headed stepchild. SC, actually, has handled most of their opponents by 20 plus points all year long. WSU also has managed to beat their opponents by a sizeable margin, too, but not in the same manner as the Trojans. The Cougars have won thanks to defensive turnovers. The boys from the Palouse have snagged more fumbles and interceptions than any other squad in the Pac. In interceptions, alone, WSU has averaged two per game.
USC relied heavily on their defense to buy them time while their offensive backfield got their sea legs. WSU has done the same but continued to rely on their defense through this season to get them their wins. The Cougar defense has responded proudly to the call, giving their offense more starts on their opponents side of the field than any other team in the league. SC's defense has given up yards but stiffened in the Red zone, preserving the leads established by their now scorching offense. It is through the turnover that WSU has maintained their momentum. It will be due to the lack of turnovers that that momentum will end.
Thanks to the best offensive line in the Pac, SC's skill players have not been forced in to making mistakes. Leinart has just seven picks to twenty-one touchdowns. The Trojan running backs have combined for over 1300 yards in rushing and have only fumbled the ball between all the starters, a mere 4 times. SC does not turn the ball over. WSU does not win without the turnover. That is where the differences begin and they only become greater as we go further down the page.
USC's offense is a near juggernaut. They are performing better right now, then they were at the end of the 2002 season. When the Trojans lost top rated tight end, Alex Holmes there was a collective inhale. Then Dominique Byrd stepped up and filled the gap by becomming a pass catcher that could stretch the field. Another gasp as he went down with a season ending knee injury. That left only one man with true playing time, backed up by a slew of underclassmen just looking for a position that might put them on the field. So, Norm Chow, instead of panicking and abadoning the short underneath, introduced two new receivers out of his backfield in Reggie Bush and the Hulk, Brandon Hancock. In four passes to these two men, there have been four touchdowns. The Trojan offense is near unstoppable, which WSU is about to find out...
Ty Willingham saw in the Trojans what Bill Doba will be seeing this Saturday night, "I did not believe their offense could move the ball against out defense the way they did, but they did..."
Without sounding cocky, basically, USC took a knee for an entire quarter of football agains the Irish. WSU lost to this same club earlier in the year, in overtime. The Cougars are too good for SC to start celebrating before the final seconds tick away, but when they do, the Trojans will be victorious.
Too many weapons at too many positions for USC, will be the Cougars undoing. They will, like so many other opponents, score early, making the first half a game. It will be mid way through the third quarter when WSU realizes they can no longer run either because they are too far behind in the score and time is of the essence, or simply because the Wild Bunch II will have taken the run away. By then, the Trojans will have made the adjustments necessary to get to Kegel, the Cougars' quarterback. That's when the mistakes will mount and SC's lead will turn into a landslide.
By comparing SC's talent with the other schools in the Pac Ten, makes me think of years I once thought were long gone. The Trojans have once again taken back the Pac and the nations' top talent is pouring in. Becuase of that, despite the concept of parity, SC's talent is just a notch above the rest. We saw it at Notre Dame and again in Seattle. The physical skills of the Trojan team is near unmatchable. In fact, one would have to travel across the nation to the University of Miami or Oklahoma to find anything comparable.
All those weapons make stopping the Trojan offense near impossible for opponents defensive coordinators. It won't be any different for WSU. Look for USC to get even more players heavily in to the show, with freshmen phenoms Lewis, Smith and Washington. Norm Chow is going to take what the Cougars give him by either throwing or running, but in either case, he will call the plays and utilize the personnel to make it all gel.
SC scores 7 times with five touchdowns and 2 fieldgoals. (yes, the mercurial Trojan kicker, Ryan Killeen will be fine. In fact, he'll probably lay some hat on an opposing player and stop a return - he's done this in a number of games and rarely gets credit for being a fairly heavy hitter, considering his non-contact position.)
It will be WSU that turns the ball over, much like they did last week against the Beavers. The difference is that one turnover is all it will take for the Trojans to leave the Cougars looking in that aforementioned mirror, wondering with all the similarities how the results could be so different.
SC 41 WSU 24