It also cannot be underestimated how important his staff has been to help reach this point. Starting with Norm Chow, who has this offense consistently putting together top performances week in and week out, and following to such stalwart assistants as Ed Orgeron, who develops the best all around defensive line in the country and in his spare time leads the outstanding recruiting efforts, the coaching staff had this team ready to play. Time after time in bowl games you saw teams come out flat after an extended layoff but in the Rose Bowl the Trojans came out and scored early to basically take command of the game from the start when, on the opening offensive drive, Matt Leinart calmly stepped back and lofted a touchdown pass to Keary Colbert to get USC on the board first.
Leinart came into the season as an unknown yet put together the kind of year that comes along only once in a great while. Matt was named the Pac-10 player of the year (the only sophomore to do so along with John Elway), set a Pac-10 mark for passes thrown without an interception, was named Rose Bowl MVP and led his team to a national title. Not bad for a guy who was third on the depth chart at this point last year.
There is always so much attention focused on Mike Williams, and rightfully so, but Colbert reminded us in this game just how special he can be. Keary made a one-handed touchdown grab of his own that will go down in Rose Bowl lore and it was great to see him move to the top spot on the reception list. Of course, Williams wasn't left out of the Rose Bowl highlight reel after his perfect pass to Leinart for the final score of the game. Mike was also one of the first players leading the team over to celebrate with the student section and the band after the game was over.
They were nicknamed the "Wild Bunch 2" in comparison to one of the great defensive lines in USC history and this current group did plenty to live up to the billing. All year long the Trojan d-line dominated the opposition and they saved the best for last in the bowl game while leading the way toward a total of nine sacks on the day against a Michigan o-line that had only allowed 15 previous sacks all season. Kenechi Udeze, the consensus All-American, was simply unblockable while Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson showed why they deserved honors as well.
We could go down the entire roster and talk about a play or moment which contributed to this historic USC season. In the opening game who could forget the hit by Jason Leach on the Auburn receiver which literally knocked his helmet right off? How about the crushing block by Leinart against Hawaii to spring Reggie Bush on a long run? Is there any doubt how important that play was in terms of establishing Leinart as the leader of this team? There was the one-handed grab by Williams against Oregon State followed shortly by a block of his own on another Bush run. On the defensive side of the ball we also had Mike Patterson with his dash toward the end zone after picking up a loose ball against the Bruins. Each of those plays, and several more, will be talked about for years as Trojan fans carry the memories of the 2003 season.
It was supposed to be a rebuilding year, a time for Carroll and staff to retool following the successful "Return to Glory" we had seen in 2002 with Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu leading the way. The experts said there was surely no way the Trojans could match the dramatic season which had culminated in an Orange Bowl victory because USC simply had too many young players they were relying on at key positions. Give the Trojans another year, the experts said, and then they would be ready to compete for a national title. Well, luckily for all of us Carroll and company didn't listen to the experts and instead they went out and competed each Saturday with a passion and spirit which made all Trojans proud. Thank you to the 2003 USC Trojan football team from Cardinal and Gold fans everywhere, what you accomplished will never be forgotten. This has truly been a season to remember.