As we now read about practice for the upcoming championship (at least in my opinion) Rosebowl, we now know the answers to many, if not all the questions and we have seen and learned much additional valuable information about this fine team and its superb coaching staff. This team not only answered the bell, it became the most prolific offensive football team in the history or modern day USC Football. Matt Leinart seemingly came out of nowhere and he had a season that only dreams are made of. After having thrown a grand total of ZERO PASSES up till this year in his SC career, Matt has become one of the most accurate and prolific quarterbacks in USC history. One may ask if it is the kid or if it is the great system that Norm Chow has brought to USC. Who can know for sure, but I suspect that the answer is that both contribute. Matt is a very smart quarterback who makes the most of his physical abilities and who makes many fine decisions whereas Norm has proven once again that given any kind of talent to work with, he will produce an awewome offense. Through Coach Chow's first year and and a third, I personally wondered what was up with SC and its offense. However, from somewhere before midseason during Carson's senior year, through this very day, SC has blown away one opponent after another with only one blemish. To call this anything but amazing would be an injustice. To say that the USC offense has become a machine is what a good buddy of mine would call a nonfalsifiable hypothesis.
Something that is easily overlooked by many is the fact that this USC team is very young and it has had to overcome a seemingly insurmountable array of serious injuries. I can't recall any single team in all the years that I have followed college football that lost three starting tight ends and still won its games. Yet SC lost Alex Holmes, then budding star Dominique Byrd, and most recently football-basketballer Gregg Guenther, yet the team still produces points. USC lost its projected starter at middle linebacker, Oscar Lua and then backup Daniel Urquhart went down. All the while, SC had to play with an injured star in his own right, Lofa Tatupu. The result was another very strong defense which was second in the nation against the run. Only one runner from Cal had his way with this SC defense, and in the process SC faced some of the nation's best in Auburn's Cadilac Williams and in Oregon State's Stephen Jackson. This is simply another amazing job by USC. One should not forget that SC also lost projected starter Kevin Arbet at cornerback and a special teams standout. Defensive standout Omar Nazel has been lost for the season and all Pac-10 Linebacker Matt Grootegoed has been out since the Stanford game. Add to that, the huge loss of one of the most dominating run blockers I have seen at SC in a long time, namely John Drake, and it is easy to see that this team has suffered more than its share. And we all know the end result---an 11-1 record and a number one ranking in both the ESPN Coaches Poll and the AP Writers Poll. Folks, my dream came true and I'll take that any day of the week.
During this season we have had the privilege of seeing the emergence of a whole bevy of new stars for USC and the further development of other young starts brought in by Coach Carroll and his great staff. What can anyone say about Big Mike Williams? I would be hard pressed to mention anyone in America that I consider to be a finer receiver and that includes anyone on the planet. I don't doubt that there are those that have already proven themselves over a long career, but at this point in time, I simply can't think of anyone more talented. Winston Justice seemingly gets better all the time and he quietly blocks and makes few mistakes. Fred Matua has played oh so well for a redshirt freshman on the line. And of course, one should never and could never fail to recognize the tailback committee at USC. Hershel looks like a stud, LenDale is superb already and I have a feeling that the sky is the limit, Chauncy Washington looked as good as any prior to his injury and then there is Reggie Bush. If there is one single guy in college today that is more electrifying than he, I wonder who that is. As I sit back and write this opinion, I can still see Reggie in my mind and from my seat in South Bend, going to his left, cutting back to his right and then putting the chasers in the dust--no contest. Very few, if any players in college football are going to catch Reggie Bush unless they start out ahead of him. For much of the season people on the boards wondered why Steve Smith, the most prolific receiver in California High School Football had not made a move. Well, perhaps having Keary Colbert and Mike Williams ahead of him explains some. However, despite all that, Steve has been the most recent of the young stars to give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. And of course, there are others, who will very likely make a name for themselves at USC in the very near future. No matter who I name, somebody will feel I missed somebody but three more names that quickly come to mind are JD Booty, Darnell Bing and Whitney Lewis. I don't think many would argue that their best football is still ahead of them.
I can still remember what it was like at USC about three years ago, in December 2000. The team was down, Hackett was on his way out and the big chase for the new coach began. One of the last names to surface was that of Pete Carroll. Now come on folks, admit it. There were few of us that were anything but mad and dismayed at the mere mention of Pete as the candidate. Thoughts of less than awesome stints with the Jets and Patriots crossed people's minds and he had been out of college for like forever. And then there was the announcement and then there was his first news conference. Well, I could not stand the choice until I heard Pete talk. From that very first meeting, the youthful exuberance, the enthusiasm and charisma needed for college footbal as opposed to the pros, and the self assuredness shone through. I was a huge Carroll fan from that day on and with the exception of one slight altercation at South Bend in 2001 which got me reprimanded severely, (LOL-- almost tossed would be a better description--and just because I vocally took exception to a few coaching ? decisions ) I have been a huge supporter of him and his staff. Pete and his hand chosen assistants have done an incredible job in an unbelievably short period of time, taking this SC Football Program to the verge of its Ninth National Championship in only 3 short years. Who would have thought that it was possible or likely?
So now, as the team prepares for what should be a hard fought, and very tough Rose Bowl, what's going on? Well, the team is busy preparing itself to be ready to rumble and to be at its best for this game. Many, many fans feel that SC belongs in the Sugar Bowl and that we got the royal shaft from the BCS. Well, I would be a liar if I were to say it would not have been an easier path to the National Championship if we had won the Sugar Bowl. However, as an old timer, one who thinks it is never a bad thing fo SC to be playing Big Ten Power Michigan in the Rose Bowl, I actually love the way this has played out so far. Of course, it will not be so wonderful if Michigan kick's butt and beats SC, but if USC wins the game, who really loses? I know this is heresey to say it, but there are three teams who might have a pretty good claim to belonging in the big game. And considering that there is absolutely no way the brilliant NCAA would sanction a final game between the winners of the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, I figure that giving two teams the chance to claim supremacy is a win win situation. Is there any SC fan out there who does not think SC won the National Championships in 1978 and 1974? Yet if one reviews the records, I believe both were of the split variety. If we share a crown with LSU or Oklahoma, who cares? They think they are number one, and we will KNOW WE ARE NUMBER ONE, so there!
As I close this opinion, I can say that the recruiting rumors are rampant right now and if all falls into place, this staff will once again bring in a group of kids that can compete with any group in America. There are all sorts of winks going on as to who is a "silent", who is just taking trips for the heck of it, and who USC might be able to turn and take away from one of its most heated intersectional rivals. Will things end up as we all hope? I have a feeling they will. Most everyone is wondering where all the rides will come from. One after another does the math, reads the message boards and then profoundly declares that the numbers are out of whack. By the time February and the Letter of Intent Day comes around, this will all fall into place. I would be shocked by only one thing. I will be shocked it there are not a couple of major surprises and some disappointments before all is settled. And what will they be? As I have been know to say on occasion, only time will tell.