Cellar, Meet Stellar

At the beginning of the season I sat at a dinner table with a group of men, college football experts, and asked who among them thought the USC Trojans would go undefeated for the 2004 season. Every one of them raised their hand. And despite some starts and stops along the way, the Men of Troy have fulfilled that prophecy. In fact they have done it so well, that when you go back and re-watch their games you realize – they have no competition.

Every team that has faced the Trojans this year has brought their best game to the contest. Wideouts catch every ball, running backs stretch for that extra yard and coaches call the perfect play. But it's all an act – one big charade put on by the Trojans for the amusement of their fans and the poor team on the "other" side of the field. The illusion is so complete, you'll hear the teams' coaches and players telling the media how "9 times out of ten" or "if we'd only executed on that one series," SC would've been ours, when in actuality they've been nothing more than a Saturday exercise for the Trojan on their way to that "perfect season" called for by fellow dinner guests at the beginning of the year.

This Saturday, the University of Arizona Wildcats a mere 35 point underdog, become the next victim in the Trojans' game of a wicked 3 Card Monty – they are the perfect marks for a fabulous gang of Cardinal and Gold grifters. Fooled again. Those boys from Troy made it look easier than easy and the Cats, man they never saw it coming – just when they thought they were in it – it's over, ball game.

SC has become so proficient at this slight of hand, they've pushed, out of humility or perhaps kindness to the opposing team, the time of their games to the latest hour possible on a Saturday night and still have them finish before Sunday church services – they really don't want the rest of the nation to catch on, at least no before they're done with their Orange Bowl opponent.

In professional football fans marvel at the parity. In college football scholarship limits were put in place to prevent the sort of "tilt" SC is currently experiencing so how did the Trojans get so good, so fast…

Only a few coaches achieve the status of legend in their own lifetimes. Knute Rockne, Bill Walsh, Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, John McKay and most recently, perhaps, Pete Carroll.

To take a Trojan team, a USC program that had reached such a level of mediocrity that it had forgot it's own elite status in college football. Losses were far more common than wins. Recruiting wars were surrendered like five dollar chips in Vegas and fans were looking forward to baseball and basketball seasons more than anything a gridiron might offer. That is until Pete Carroll brought his game to LA. Now the sky, like the talent willing to put on the ancient colors, is the limit.

It's hard for other teams to compare when Pete possesses two Heisman candidates who share the backfield with possibly the best "between-the-tackles" tailback in the nation, a Butkus and Lombardi finalist, and depth beyond imagination. In contrast, the Wildcats, in a major rebuilding stage, field what is considered near the worst team in a very weak Pac Ten year

. Matinee idol looking Matt Leinart, the Trojans starting quarterback, has for two seasons performed at the same level as his Heisman predecessor and first round draft pick, Carson Palmer. Quarterbacks shouldn't look as pretty as this guy – more like shriveled up pieces of rawhide. But Leinart, who makes many think of the great Kenny Stabler, doesn't have a blemish on him – not a wart. And his field-general skills are as collected as Paul Newman's portrayal of one Cool Hand Luke. Leinart has no peers in college ball and is the Trojan's most valuable player. But even with that said, he is not alone.

Reggie Bush, like second hand smoke, germ warfare and insider trading, should be banned. No game is won by a single player but tell the Trojans that. Bush has scored every time the Trojans need him most.

Lendale White, the thunder to Bush's lightening, runs with the power and reckless abandon that few NFL backs can match.

The two best tight ends in college football line up like book-ends anchoring a young Trojan offensive line. Perhaps the best freshman wide receiver, the Mike Williams' clone, Dwayne Jarrett pulls in passes as well as any of the greatest Trojan receivers from Swann, to Colbert, Morton and Williams himself.

Things only get sweeter on the defensive side of the ball for SC. At almost every position the Trojans field the league's, and in some cases, the nation's best player. What this means for Arizona and Stoops is… the chance to play the best team in the country and to convince themselves, as a team, that they actually hung with that number one program – the charade continues until it ends, January 2005.

Unfortunately for the Cats, USC had a less than "clear cut" win against another weak program in Oregon State last weekend and this might be just the incentive required to take this weekend's game beyond the routine. Only time will tell but Arizona could prove the perfect tune-up for the Trojans' last two rivalry games against Notre Dame and Ucla.

No matter how the game transpires, SC is sure to win and even more sure to continue their reign as the nation's top program. How Pete Carroll has managed it, bringing the talent, teaching them to win, might look easy to other coaches and their teams around the nation, but it requires a special sort of magic that only Pete seems to possess. Right now for Trojan fans and alumnae that magic pure gold – cardinal and gold.

USC 48 UofA 3

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