With only two games left, the BCS standings are becoming a hot topic of conversation. The rankings have, of course, tripped the Trojans up once before, and it look like they could become another oil slick just before the finish line. USC remains the number one team in the nation however, thanks to a dominating performance this past weekend. This was a game that was never truly in question, even when Arizona tried to cling to that fleeting 3-0 lead they took on Nick Folk's career-long 48-yard field goal in the first quarter.
The Trojans have been on a mission from the season's opening kickoff. It's always tough to go through a season undefeated, but there's just something different about playing games as the number one team. The Trojans' opponents have pulled out all the stops when USC comes up on the schedule. We've seen fake field goals, fake punts, onside kicks, Stanford and Cal using robots as quarterbacks and Oregon State getting their hands on so many smoke machines that KISS recently booked Reser Stadium as their next concert venue. To this point in the season, the Trojans have withstood everything that's been thrown at them, and while the Arizona game didn't even register as a speed bump on their quest for the national championship, there were many things in the game that serve as examples of exactly where this Trojan team stands and how they've come to earn this position.
• Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson – The entire defense has played exceptionally well this season and is probably the biggest reason for the Trojans remaining at number one, but these two guys are the headliners. Something that stood out in the game this weekend was the amount of tackles for loss turned in by Trojan defenders because these two establish the line or scrimmage three yards in the backfield. With the way these two have been controlling the line of scrimmage against the run, I wouldn't be surprised to see teams start putting out six wide receiver sets. Of course, Notre Dame and UCLA have a combined four wide receivers.
• Matt Leinart – Early in the year it seemed as if Matt Leinart was hesitant to throw the deep ball into coverage. That is no longer an issue, however, as Leinart has seemingly developed enough confidence in his still blossoming receivers to allow them to work for him and help him out. In each of the last three games, he's made at least one very important throw that did far more for the team than simply move the ball downfield. In the Washington State game, it was the 33-yard toss to Jason Mitchell. Against Oregon State, it was the throw that resulted in Dominique Byrd's one-handed catch. And in this weekend's game, it was the back-to-back throws to Dwayne Jarrett that resulted in his first touchdown of the game. Leinart has shown in these past few games that he once again has complete trust in his receiving corps.
• Dwayne Jarrett – Every time Dwayne Jarrett makes a spectacular catch I feel like "Double Down" Trent from Swingers, standing on the table shouting, "Our baby's all growns up." We've seen this kid go from dropped pass after dropped pass in the opening games against Virginia Tech, to establishing himself as a legitimate threat on every play. He's displayed all the skills needed to become a dominant wide receiver: ability to adjust to the ball in the air, breakaway speed, and a surprising strength to outmuscle any defensive back, especially in the endzone. We knew it would only be a matter of time, but Dwayne Jarrett has arrived. "He's growns up and he's growns up and he's growns up."
• Eric Wright and Justin Wyatt – The reason that USC has retained their number one ranking is the amazing talent pool that head coach Pete Carroll has at his disposal, sitting on the bench right behind him. Eric Wright and Justin Wyatt started at the cornerback positions in the Arizona game, replacing both injured starters. To be able to replace both of your starting cornerbacks and still allow only 165 yard passing defies the laws of football. Look at what's happening at Oklahoma. They only lost one of their defensive backs and right now they wouldn't be able to stop the blue team from the Lingerie Bowl from moving the ball through the air.
• Special Teams – So much attention has been paid this year to the dominating defense and the seemingly patchwork offense that the Trojan special teams units have been largely overlooked. Reggie Bush is simply the most talented player in the nation. He's shown that when he gets the ball with room to run, defenses would have trouble catching him with a fishing net. I've never seen anyone with the ability to stop and start as quickly as he does. And while we're talking about special teams returns, isn't chanting "block that kick" during punts a little bit like rooting for Barry Bonds to hit a ground rule double? Sure, it helps the team and it's exciting, but we've got number five back there ready to hit a homerun. Sure, "return that kick" won't work and I suppose "Erik Rules" is out of the question, but how about "Re-ggie-Bush?" Also, if Thomas Williams and Desmond Reed were the only coverage guys on the kickoff unit, is there any doubt that they'd still stop the returner before the 20 yard line? The Trojan special teams units have established themselves as some of the best in the nation and can keep this team in every game.
• LenDale White – Is there a more underrated player in the nation than LenDale White? While his obvious ability helps the team in countless ways, it might be his attitude that is even more important. Given 30 carries per game, White would be knocking on the door of 175-200 yards per game and earning time in conversations regarding the nation's best players. But in this Trojan offense, White takes his 15 carries per game, constantly churns out big plays and touchdowns and then deflects praise to those around him. He's the first one off the bench celebrating touchdowns (those rare times that he's not the one taking it in for six), and embodies everything this Trojan team stands for.
The thing that most impresses me about this Trojan team is how they have gone about this season. It just doesn't seem that they're playing the same kind of football as these other teams, or at least on the same level that the BCS has brought college football to. When Oklahoma scores a garbage time touchdown to go up by 65 in the closing seconds, head coach Bob Stoops cites the BCS and talks about how margin of victory will be looked at by the voters. Ever since Auburn beat Tennessee they've been talking about how difficult it is to go undefeated in the SEC and how no undefeated team from that conference should be left out of the title game. Meanwhile, the Trojans just keep winning football games. While Bob Stoops and (Auburn head coach) Tommy Tuberville are finishing games and thinking about how best to spin this win into a few more points in the BCS standings, Pete Carroll is wondering which way the Gatorade cooler is coming from, who gets the first high five and how long he can stay out on the field celebrating with the fans.
Sure, some people might say that it's easy to take that attitude when you're the top dog, but after watching Pete Carroll for almost four years and the effect he's had on this program, I don't think he would be acting any different if USC was sitting in third place right now, looking at getting locked out of the Orange Bowl. Pete Carroll just gets it. He gets that college football isn't about rankings. It isn't about trophies or statistics or who would beat whom on a neutral field in January. College football is about that feeling you get when you step out of the tunnel and see 90,000 cardinal and gold clad fans waving pompoms and screaming until it hurts. It's about a community of students, alumni and anyone else devoted enough to throw all of their emotion behind a group of collegiate student-athletes in an unspoken bond of victory signs and a more audible bond of "Fight On!" Pete Carroll believes, and has gotten these Trojan teams of the past few years to believe, that you play hard on every snap from the opening kickoff until the clock hits triple zeroes. You don't play to raise your standings in the eyes of the BCS. You don't play because another 100-yard day as a freshman will set a record, and you don't play to embarrass your opponent. You play because on every Autumn Saturday, you get 60 minutes to represent the University of Southern California. You get 60 minutes to don the cardinal and gold and reestablish the tradition that made those colors so synonymous with college football glory. You get 60 minutes each week to represent USC on the football field and the next 60 years to represent it off the field.
Pete Carroll and the entirety of this Trojan team take so much pride in the work they do in representing this university. Their pride and dedication have led to the 18-game winning steak the Trojans are currently riding. They aren't doing it with stats or records or awards. They're doing it because they have invigorated a Trojan family that was in dire need of something to root for. They fight for us to cheer, and we cheer for them to fight.
So go ahead BCS and do your worst. Take into account points scored in the 4th quarter with your first-string talent. Give weight to wins against overrated ranked teams. And please don't take into account the way that USC has defended its number one ranking throughout the year. Use your secret formulas and weird statistics and put Oklahoma and Auburn in the Orange Bowl and watch one of those teams hoist your crystal trophy. Then put the Trojans in the Rose Bowl and watch college football, the way it was meant to be played.