The Obvious and the not so Obvious

The Obvious - In a rare Mid-Atlantic visit to the land of power, politics, and beltways, the nation's capital serves a as backdrop for Saturday night's season opener for the top-ranked University of Southern California Trojans, who begin their "Decision 2004" national championship campaign against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Black Coaches Association Classic at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

The Not So Obvious – Legendary Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron once said, "It's easier getting to the major leagues than staying in the major leagues." For the Trojans of USC, we shall see if it was easier being selected the preseason No. 1 team in the country than staying number one, as each Trojan opponent takes bull's-eye aim on being a SportsCenter's upset headline.

The Obvious – In their first meeting ever against Virginia Tech, the top-ranked Trojans opened a 17-plus favorite over their ACC opponent, who should take comfort that Troy has not dominated past Atlantic Coast Conference challengers and will be missing some prominent performers.

The Not So Obvious – Howwwwwever, just to keep the Trojans' attention in the 2004 national polls, SC may be No. 1 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, but in the Jeff Sagarin preseason computer ratings, Troy is No. 4 behind Miami, Oklahoma, and Florida State. While Virginia Tech is not ranked in the media polls, VT does gets some love by Sagarin's computer with a No. 19 ranking.

The Obvious – With the announcement that backup sophomore guard Alatini "Tiny" Malu (6-4, 305) will miss up to three weeks after an emergency appendectomy last Sunday, When you add up the number of talented Trojans NOT playing Saturday night due to illness, injury, and legal issues, it's truly breathtaking.

The Not So Obvious – When you add up the number of talented Trojans like Matt Leinart, Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, and Matt Grootegoed who ARE playing, it is equally breathtaking.

The Obvious – Washington DC has one of the Hokies largest alumni bases and 65,000 Hokie fans from around the Virginia area are expected to make it a VT home game while 15,000 Trojan fans are expected to try and disrupt those plans.

The Not So Obvious - The Trojan team will do their "home team" part for their traveling followers by wearing their colorful Coliseum home uniforms on Saturday evening, a rare visual treat for easterners at FedEx Field. For the benefit of his quarterbacks and leaving nothing to chance, Trojan coach Pete Carroll had his offensive unit practice in their home jerseys the past couple of practice weeks, a strategy the Trojans employ for home games during the season. Yes, the offense practices in white for away games.

The Obvious – With 5,000 more seats added to FedEx Field thanks to the return of Redskins' head coach Joe Gibbs, a former Trojan assistant under John McKay, visiting Trojan fans will be sitting in the NFL's largest venue (91,665). It also means USC fans will also get another look at southern football tailgating – Hokie style.

The Not So Obvious – Trojan fans making their way east and planning to also do some tailgating should know that parking lots at FedEx Field will open at 1:00 PM. If you are driving to the game, the color of your parking ticket will tell you which colored lot to park. There will be entertainment being provided by Love See Mama Jump at 5:45 PM – 7:30 PM in the Tailback Club of the stadium. At the same time, The Zone will be performing at the Hall of Fame Plaza. If that's not your cup of team, try the new Hooters restaurant at FedEx Field.

The Obvious – Saturday night's BCA Classic will be televised nationally by ESPN (4:45 p.m. PT) with Ron Franklin, Mike Gottfried, and Erin Andrews describing the action.

The Not So Obvious – This will be just the Trojans' fifth appearance on ESPN and for those that want some extra info, the cable outlet will have their 2004 College GameDay season preview on Friday at 4:00 p.m. PT and Saturday GameDay at 8:30 a.m. PT.

The Obvious –Among the new NCAA rules for this season, Trojan players might not be too thrilled with the edict in which officials equipped with microphones will announce the number of a player committing a penalty.

The Not So Obvious – For an example, not only will ESPN viewers Saturday night hear the number of the culprit ala the NFL, but so should fans at FedEx Field, since most official rulings normally are fed through the stadium's public address system. Basketball, of course, has done this forever with the public address announcer giving the number AND name of the fouler. Might the Trojans' public address announcer Dennis Packer be allowed to do the same basketball practice at the Coliseum against Colorado State on Sept. 11th? Don't hold your breath.

The Obvious – Saturday night's BCA Classic begins Pete Carroll's fourth season as the Trojans' head coach and Frank Beamer's 18th season as head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The Not So Obvious – Both coaches are former national coaches of the year and are known for their firebrand of defense, which comes as no surprise since both are former college defensive performers. Beamer, who is the fourth winningest active coach behind Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, and Lou Holtz, was a three-starter at corner for Virginia Tech while Carroll was a two-time All-PCC free safety for the University of Pacific Tigers.

The Obvious – Bringing to FedEx Field an all-star defense of college household names, the usually optimistic Pete Carroll has been very upbeat in his comments this week heading into Saturday's game, saying his Trojans are ready for Virginia Tech in hostile territory.

The Not So Obvious – If you didn't know it was VT coach Frank Beamer, you'd swear you were listening to Lou Holtz, the town crier of college football. In a folksy way, Beamer has been saying all week his club is way too young to be on the same field with "Southern Cal." Yeah, and if VT wins, it will be said that Beamer was sandbagging and if his Hokies lose, they WERE too young.

The Obvious – Virginia Tech team is a team that is coming off a "disappointing" 8-5 year, but lost a number of close games in the second half the season.

The Not So Obvious – USC fans should be reminded that Virginia Tech, a transfer from the Big East, has played the likes of Miami, a team they upset last year 31-7 ending the Canes 39-game regular season winning streak.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be attacking VT with a leading Heisman contender in quarterback Matt Leinart, but Leinart's backup remains a key question.

The Not So Obvious – It appears that Brandon Hance, who has more lives than Disney's Thomasina the Cat, will take the throttle if Leinart goes down in the short haul. Trojan fans should get ready for some shotgun formations if Brandon takes snaps.

The Obvious – Veteran VT quarterback Bryan Randall (6-1, 222) has been receiving rave review during summer practices.

The Not So Obvious - As for VT's backup situation, Trojan defenders know if they know knock out the elusive Randall, they get true freshman Sean Glennon, who had a 1300 SAT and led his Westfield High team last fall to the Virginia AAA Group 6 title.

The Obvious – The Trojans ‘ sophomore "co-starters" at tailback are electrifying tailback Reggie Bush (6-0, 200) and LenDale "The Load" White (6-2, 235), both of whom have been impressive in recent practices in place of suspended starter Hershel Dennis..

The Not So Obvious – So who will be the official starting tailback on Saturday night? It certainly wouldn't surprise the O/NSO if Norm Chow lined both up behind Leinart in some formation. Given the current Dennis situation, it's somewhat ironic that offensive coordinator Norm Chow traveled this summer to the St. Louis Rams' camp to see how Coach Mike Martz uses Marshall Faulk to better expand Reggie Bush's enormous talents. The most explosive Trojan running back since O. J. Simpson, the only question about "Roadrunner Reggie" is his durability. Durability appears not to be the case with White, whom given the carries, could be the closest to a Ricky Bell in brutish power and surprising speed.

The Obvious – Athletically both the Trojans and the Hokies run a multiple offense and a base 4-3 defense.

The Not So Obvious – Academically both schools are also nearly identical in establishment and current enrollment. VT was founded in 1872 and USC in 1880, and the enrollment for the Hokies is 28,000 and the Trojans at 31,000 (16,000 undergrads).

The Obvious – The eyes of Trojan fans will be fixed on the performance of a massive new offensive line.

The Not So Obvious – On the Loose Cannons' XTRA-690 radio show, Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart had his own observation on the offensive line that will protect his health. " (There's) more talent than last year's group and in the past," Leinart said. "It's just inexperienced. They're big and fast, real fast!"

The Obvious – For last year's Auburn opener, weather was a big pre-game issue, but the Trojans provided Auburn some California heat and humidity on the playing field to the tune of 23-0.

The Not So Obvious – It will be interesting to see how the Trojans handle a predicted a forecast of 89 degrees, mostly sunny, and the vaunted Washington, DC humidity. Of course, as a veteran of DC weather, the daily forecast can change radically as UCLA quarterbacks.

The Obvious – In recent years, both these coaches have had a familiar pattern to their programs. For Carroll, his Trojan teams seem to get stronger and stronger heading into November; Beamer's recent teams seem to do the exact opposite. The Hokies are a house on fire in September but a smoldering cinder in November.

The Not So Obvious - The game, despite the odds, becomes intriguing because of the pattern of both coaches. Due to VT's recent late season flameouts, many Hokie players see the USC game as redemption for their reputation. "They're the national champions for a reason, " says defensive end Jim Davis (6-3, 276), out last year with injury but who has 23 career tackles for losses. "I think we can see a lot of things right by going out there and playing hard the first week against USC." Some argue Davis is VT's best player.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be facing a team that has puts a great of emphasis on defense and special teams, especially the art blocking of punts and field goal attempts.

The Not So Obvious – The VT media guides takes a full page to billboard the accomplishments of the VT special teams that have led to touchdowns in the Frank Beamer era. Special teams and defense have accounted for 88 touchdowns since1987 and scoring in 101 of their past 201 games.

The Obvious - Trojan punter junior Tom Malone and senior kicker Ryan Killeen will be under as intense defensive pressure as they may see all season.

The Not So Obvious – In Beamer's Hokie history, his teams have blocked 52 punts, 28 field goal attempts, and 21 PAT's. Before Trojan fans start to quiver, it should be noted that during Hokie scrimmages in summer practice, VT's own field goal line protection was also having problems. The Trojans are no wimps either when applying special teams pressure. Just ask Michigan.

The Obvious – Perhaps no two Trojan will be under as much pressure Saturday evening as redshirt freshman punt snapper Will Collins from Mater Dei and placekick snapper and reserve linebacker Collin Ashton, the former Mission Viejo stud.

The Not So Obvious – Don't think that VT coach Frank Beamer isn't aware of the debut of these two Trojans. Collins' uncle, Joe Collins, was a member of USC's 1974 national championship football team, and we know from last year that nobody is going to intimidate former walk-on Ashton, who earned a "ride" from Pete Carroll before summer practice.

The Obvious – The Trojans will throw the gauntlet at VT's vaunted special teams as Pete Carroll has decided to unleash tailbacks Reggie Bush and Desmond Reed on the kickoff return team.

The Not So Obvious – In somewhat of a depth chart surprise, Bush is also named as first-unit punt returner moving ahead of dependable junior Greig Carlson.

The Obvious – The Trojans will probably unveil a new running back in former Temple City star Desmond Reed (5-9, 180), a redshirt freshman wearing No. 22.

The Not So Obvious – Reed, who played high school ball for ex-USC fullback Mike Mooney, can be an electrifying runner as demonstrated his senior year when he scored 29 touchdowns, including a California state record 8 while returning kicks (4 on kickoffs, 4 on punts). Don't be surprised to see him line up in the same backfield with Reggie Bush. Reed has made some spectacular moves during practice that even had the Trojans' defenders applauding.

The Obvious - BCA officials are expecting a sellout at FedEx Field.

The Not So Obvious – For Trojans making the exciting trip back East, Landover's FedEx Field is about eight miles from downtown Washington, DC. You can take the Metro rail (subway) from Washington, DC. Just take the Orange Line ($1.85) to the Landover Metro station or the Blue Line to the Addison Road Metro station. From these stations, just take a shuttle bus and a short walk to FedEx Field. Expect a 19 minute excursion. So much for the public service message.

The Obvious – Both USC and Virginia Tech have returning starting quarterbacks in junior Matt Leinart (6-5, 225) and Bryan Randall, respectively.

The Not So Obvious – Both played against Cal in 2003 with Leinart throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns while Randall, the former Virginia High School Player of the Year, buzzed the Bears for 398 yards in the Insight Bowl.

The Obvious – Saturday night's game will be a game of constant adjustments by Trojans' offensive line coach Tim Davis and Frank Beamer's respected multi-blitz packages.

The Not So Obvious – If you believe that Beamer will roll the dice against the high powered Trojan offense, watch for early offensive line changes by Davis, who will not hesitate to change linemen in a moment's notice should blown assignments and penalties become apparent. Keep an eye on Trojan junior transfer tackle" Deuce" Lutui (6-6, 370) and his stamina in the DC heat. A key could be Lutui's backup, Kyle Williams (6-6, 290), the improved redshirt sophomore from Dallas.

The Obvious – In terms of historical Virginia sites, Williamsburg is a living history of our colonial past.

The Not So Obvious – Hokie senior option/shotgun quarterback Bryan Randall is a native of Williamsburg and the senior will be looking to make some history himself with his scrambling and probable use of the shotgun and the option. Don't think that Hokie coach Beamer hasn't reviewed Kansas State's Ell Roberson's performance against the Trojans a couple of years ago. Former Notre Dame coach Kevin Rogers, who instructed Jarious Jackson and Donovan McNab at Syracuse, tutors the Hokie's Randall.

The Obvious – One area that has been a real Hokie mystery is the tailback and fullback positions, where the early departure of superstar tailback Kevin Jones and graduation of tough fullback Doug Easlik has been a VT question mark.

The Not So Obvious –Although he may not have been ready early due to a leg injury, junior Cedric Humes (6-1, 230) returned with a flash in the Hokies' final scrimmage last weekend. The Hokies also have a good one in freshman George Bell (5-10, 226), who has shown flashes in recent scrimmages.

The Obvious – Much of the Trojans chances for victory in Landover will depend on the inexperienced USC offensive line to protect Leinart and allow "Lefty" and Norm Chow to dissect the Hokie defense with Troy's talented, but untested receivers.

The Not So Obvious – That Trojan offensive line may be challenged to keep Leinart healthy throughout the evening. Last season the VT defense had 32 sacks, second to Miami in the Big East. These folks know how to apply defensive heat in a hurry.

The Obvious – In order for VT to have a chance against the Trojans, they will have to put on a heavy rush and do something they have not been able to do well lately, cover receivers.

The Not So Obvious – Don't think that the Trojans talented assembly of receivers won't eventually find nirvana in the Hokie secondary. Last season Cal went wild through the air in the Insight Bowl scorching VT to the tune of 394 yards.

The Obvious – Although Trojans' wide receiver Steve Smith has successful game experience, the starting of Chino Hills redshirt soph Chris McFoy (6-1, 195) and support from New Jersey freshman Dwayne Jarrett is another issue altogether.

The Not So Obvious - There will be a great amount of mental pressure on McFoy to replace All-America Mike Williams and for freshman Jarrett to not only catch balls but to run and adjust his proper pass routes. It will be interesting to see if Coach Beamer puts converted safety-turned- cornerback Jimmy Williams (6-3, 222) on Jarrett for size equalization. It also won't surprise here if Beamer rolls up his corners, especially Williams, and jams the inexperienced Trojan receivers right off the line of scrimmage.

The Obvious – The Trojans' highly anticipated freshmen class figured to make some kind of dent in the depth chart following the conclusion of summer practice.

The Not So Obvious – Heading into game week with VT, four of the heralded true Trojan freshmen have achieved second unit status. The Fab Four include center Jeff Byers (behind Ryan Kalil), wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (behind Chris McFoy), defensive end Jeff Schweiger (behind Frosty Rucker), and linebacker Keith Rivers (behind Matt Grootegoed). Not a shock, but certainly an indication they were all the real deal out of high school.

The Obvious – The most ballyhooed of the Fab Four second-unit freshmen is the well advertised Dwayne Jarrett, the wide receiver from New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The Not So Obvious – Quarterback Matt Leinart is Jarrett's biggest campaigner. " He is going to be a big time player," Leinart said. "He (Jarrett) is as tall as Mike (Williams) and has a vertical leap. He has shown he can play and has shown he can play with the big boys."

The Obvious – All-America defensive lineman candidate Shaun Cody begins Saturday night's dance at defensive tackle in hot pursuit of quarterback Randall . It also figures that the Trojans will go all out to stop the VT running attack and force Randall to scramble and put it in the air.

The Not So Obvious – Look for redshirt defense end Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 270) to unveil his wonderful tools once he gets his feet wet. Jackson will be pitted against the Hokies' veteran offensive tackles senior Joe Dunn (6-7, 341) and/or junior Jimmy Martin (6-5, 289). Ya think Kenechi will be watching Jackson's efforts?

The Obvious –One disappointing factor for the Hokies' secondary is the expected absence of Trojan All-America wide receiver Mike Williams, who is still waiting for a NCAA eligibility ruling.

The Not So Obvious – Hokie senior defensive back Eric Green had his own ideas during training camp about facing Williams. "As a defensive back, you want to play against the best and he's the best right now," Green said. " I want that opportunity and I am sure the other guys do, too. We really want him to play."

The Obvious – At the beginning of summer camp for the Trojans, a friendly debate started over the starting center position. Would it be sophomore Ryan Kalil or heralded true freshman Jeff Byers.?

The Not So Obvious – Coach Pete Carroll and line coach Tim Davis have decided that Kalil will get the nod on Saturday. VT has its own center problems, for they must replace Remington Award winning center Jake Grove, who is now drawing a paycheck in the NFL.

The Obvious – The Trojans' lone returning starter on the offensive line is Wilmington mauler Fred Matua (6-2, 305), who will start at guard.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans, in all honesty, have two starters with the return of road grader John Drake (6-4, 350), a starter until injured. The Hokie, however, must replace both their starting offensive guards from last year's unit.

The Obvious – The Trojans have lost starting fullback Brandon Hancock for the season, but do have the very capable duo of senior Lee Webb (6-0, 240) and the dependable run-catch threat of junior David Kirtman (6-0, 225).

The Not So Obvious – The Hokies think they will unleash a potential superstar at fullback in redshirt freshman John Kinzer (6-2, 246), who some in the VT coaching staff say is a future Sunday player in physical ability. However, this will also be Kinzer's first college game.

The Obvious – The Trojans had a number of players in summer school and most came through with flying cardinal and gold colors.

The Not So Obvious – Virginia Tech also had a number of players in summer school and Frank Beamer made some team practice adjustments. VA-Tech held some two-a-day practices at 6 a.m., as not to conflict with summer school. The VT team that went to the national title game in 1999 also had 6:00 a.m. practices.

The Obvious – You can bet there was quite an aggressive battle in several summer practices for those Trojan players hoping to make that Thursday Delta charter flight to Baltimore and taste the perks of staying at the Greenbelt Marriott, which is just seven miles from FedEx Field.

The Not So Obvious -While the Hokies weren't fighting for an airline seat, they still wanted to be on the team bus. "Everybody is trying to fight to get on that four-or-five-deep and get on that bus to DC," said third-string nose guard Tim Sandidge of Amherst, Virginia.

The Obvious – USC has made numerous requests not to be called Southern Cal.

The Not So Obvious – Virginia Tech is the preferred name for the Hokies as opposed to its full name of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

The Obvious – USC is referred to as the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious – VT got its nickname from a contest early-on when a senior named O.M. Stull (class of 1896) won first prize in a yelling contest by making up the word "Hokies." The phrase stuck and the rest is history for the team whose colors are Chicago maroon and burnt orange.

The Obvious – Saturday night's game at FedEx figures to feature a number of players that will someday play in the NFL.

The Not So Obvious – Under Frank Beamer, 116 players have gone on to sign with NFL teams. In Pete Carroll's short three-year stint as Trojans head coach, 11 Trojans have gone on to play on Sundays.

The Obvious – USC is second to none when it comes to superstars that have gone on to the NFL

The Not So Obvious – NFL Virginia Techsters include the likes of Michael Vick, Bruce Smith, Antonio Freeman, and don't forget old Los Angeles Ram receiver Carroll Dale.

The Obvious – Hokie fans are hoping that the Trojan Marching Band will be part of the festivities Saturday night.

The Not So Obvious – Sorry Hokie fans, a band member told the O/NSO only Trojan senior band members will be making the trip, so you'll have a small "taste" of one of college football's greatest traditions.

The Obvious – Petros Papdakis has left the Trojans 1540 game broadcast team to join the Fox Sports television's Pac-10 broadcasts with Barry Tomkins.

The Not So Obvious – In a good move by management, John Jackson, the former USC receiving great, has replaced Papdakis.on for the sideline reports. The hiring of Jackson, joining the play-by-play team of Pete Arbogast and Paul McDonald, brings new meaning when former Trojan All-America quarterback McDonald "throws" it down to Jackson. Ya just can't keep QB's and WR's apart. Also joining the team is former Fox Sports reporter Suzy Shuster.

The Obvious – While Trojan fans at FedEx Field will not be able to get the Trojans' broadcast on 1540, there's always listening to the BCA Classic from a Virginia Tech prospective by listening in to WTEM-980 AM.

The Not So Obvious – Trojan fans will be treated to veteran Virginia Tech voice Bill Roth, who opens every broadcast with, "From the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air."

The Obvious – And FINALLY, as the O/NSO departs on the cross-country trip to DC with Mrs.23blast, you may have noticed a "full" byline name outside the handle, 23blast.

The Not So Obvious –After careful consultation between the Office of Homeland Security and WeAreSC, Tom Ridge and Gary Paskwietz concluded that in the best interest of Trojan national security, 23blast should be identified to the public. If you think you know me, you are probably a Trojan fan, and if you aren't, you're probably part of the insurgency. Then again, if you can't trust the judgement of Ridge and Paskwietz on this delicate matter, whom can you trust? Hopefully, on Saturday night in the nation's capital, a new USC offensive line and inexperienced group of young Trojan receivers. Top Stories