One would have to be a total non-sports fan or simply oblivious to all sports reporting and TV in general to have bypassed the various television commentators' reports and the multiple columns concerning the BCS and USC's roll in the whole scenario. This year, at least at this time, the BCS's and Pollsters' worst nightmare is a potential reality. During the course of any long college football season, it is relatively uncommon for one or perhaps even two major college football powers to end up with perfect records. Well, lo and behold, at this point in the 2004 season , it is not out of the question for up to five major teams to end the regular season undefeated. Auburn, Oklahoma, Utah, Boise State and our own USC are all in position to win them all. Of course, some serious football remains for many with the Trojans facing , by far, the biggest hurdles to overcome. When the season is all over and the final bowl selections are made, there is undoubtedly going to be some very unhappy campers. If SC remains undefeated, we will hear that we started number one, we won them all and we deserve to be in Miami, playing for all the marbles. However, the fans from the other schools will come up with their own arguments and in the end, somebody who is undefeated will likely end up left out in the cold. The notion of East Coast Bias is once again surfacing its ugly head. All of a sudden, some in the media such as that "genius" Trev Alberts, is pushing the notion that SC is not number one, and probably not even number two. Great job Trev. Who died and left him in charge of anything? All of a sudden, coaches such as Bob Stoops are asking why there was an early poll to start with. HMHM! I remember no such complaints from him last year when the BCS formula worked to his advantage. And even the internet mutual admiration society between USC posters and Auburn posters has taken a turn South. Yes, college football, bigtime winning and lack of a true playoff system will do that to the best of them. And how about Boise State ? They have the nation's longest win streak and they clobbered Oregon State who is currently playing lights out football and who presented quite a challenge to USC. And needless to say, there is the Utah team who demolished Texas A&M and everyone else they played. Yes sir, things are really cooking these days.
With all the talk about the polls and the BCS, one should never forget that no other school in the country is facing the final struggle that awaits the Trojans. USC will have to defeat its two biggest rivals, back to back in order to maintain its claim to number one and to have a shot at the Orange Bowl in Miami. In another interesting twist of fate, the order in which these back to back games is played is reversed from prior years. As far back as I can remember, when SC played Notre Dame at home, the Trojans always faced the Bruins first. This year, most likely to accomodate television and to be televised nationally, SC first takes on the Fighting Irish and then finishes with the Bruins at their stadium, but arguably at the Trojans "home away from home-the Rosebowl". Many have just assumed that USC will have a cakewalk over both of these teams and that it is a foregone conclusion that SC wins both of these games going away. I have no reason to hope for anything less, but that might not be the case. In my opinion, both the Irish and the Bruins could cause USC major league problems if SC does not focus on one game at a time and bring its A Game to each outing. Of course, with Pete Carroll and one of College Football's best staffs, this team will come prepared and leave it all on the field. I don't believe victory is a guarantee, but I do think the Trojans can and will defeat both of its bitter rivals on back to back weekends for an unprecedented third consecutive season.
What do the Irish bring to the table and how can and will the Trojans respond? Trojan Fans often talk about the Glory Days and about Trojan History. If there is any team in the country that can match SC, story for story and perhaps then some with regards to history, Heisman Trophies and the like, it is Notre Dame. The Trojans have whipped the Irish like never before in their past two meetings. Obviously, The Irish would like nothing better than to end their losing streak to SC and to ruin the Trojans' chances for a national championship. In years gone by, there was a saying that the National Championship had to go through Notre Dame with the winner of the SC-ND game often being in the hunt. Well, that is once again true. We have destroyed their championship hopes more than once and they did a job on SC in 1988, as I still remember Tony Rice jaunting down the sideline untouched by anyone, including former great db, Mark Carrier. And of course, the Irish owned the Trojans for that sickening period of some 13 years when SC did not win a game against them, losing 11 straight, getting a tie and then losing once more before finally winning a game at the Coliseum in a game that many will long remember.
Can this Irish team pull off another such win at the Coliseum? I don't think they are as talented as the Trojans, but they can be tough on a given day. SC will still be without some of its horses and I am guessing at this time that Steve Smith and Chris McFoy will not be ready, or if they are, neither will be at 100%. So can SC still do a job on the Irish? Yes, they can and I think they will. The Irish have shown excellent Defense at times and some potent offense at times, but rarely have they shown both together. The Trojan pass rush will have to disrupt Brady Quinn enough to prevent him from getting into a groove. Last year at South Bend, the Irish got their running game going early and it took quite a while to quiet them down. This time around, one can only hope that the Trojan Defense comes out spitting fire from the beginning. SC will be without backup DT supreme, Manuel Wright so somebody else is going to have to step up in a big way. Perhaps this is the game that LaJuan Ramsey finally overcomes his injuries and regains last year's early season form. If not, then maybe Jeff Schweiger and Frostree Rucker each have big games. As has been the case all year long, when one guy is down, then it is simply time for another to step it up. We are healthy at the linebacker position and the first guy off the bench is no longer a walk on. This time we get to see future All-American and true freshman Keith Rivers and what a difference that makes. In the defensive backfield, another emerging star, Eric Wright has stepped up beautifully to replace the injured Kevin Arbet and the Trojans do not miss a beat. In fact, what they give up in experience, they seem to gain in speed, quickness, athleticism and the ability to cover one on one.
Just as important as the defensive effort will be the offensive effort. For several games this season, the Offense has not operated on all cylinders in the first half. I can think of no better time than right now for that pattern to be broken. The University of Southern California will be on National Television in Prime Time. This is the perfect time for Matt Leinart to get this team going from the very first possession. Many claim that Carson Palmer secured his Heisman Trophy with a lights out game against Notre Dame two seasons ago. This is Matt Leinart's opportunity to be in the limelight and to lead the SC offense to a terrific performance. Fortunately for USC, even without Smith and McFoy, Leinart will have plenty of weapons available. Lendale and Reggie are there as is Jason Mitchell, the ever improving and evolving superstar Dwayne Jarrett and the guy that I think is the difference maker, this year's unstoppable force, Dominique Byrd. Any team with Reggie Bush, arguably college football's number one overall offensive threat, LenDale White, a kid who could be a Heisman contender with most other teams, Dominique, and Matt has the potential to be unstoppable. Much has been written on the internet how this team could not beat last year's team or the team that finished the 2002 season and the like. Well, maybe and maybe not, but that is not the point. The point is that finally, even with all the personnel losses at wide receiver, the loss of Brandon Hancock at fullback, the loss of Winston Justice and most of the rest of last year's Oline and with the current injury to John Drake, the USC offense looked unstoppable against a very respectable Arizona Defense in the second half. The young offensive line is more than adequate and Jeff Byers is simply amazing. I am not sure that even if Drake can go against the Irish that he will be able to keep Jeff on the bench for long. This offense has terrific running backs, adequate wide receivers who continue to improve, the best duo at Tight End that I can remember in Alex Holmes and Dominique Byrd and at the head of the class, they have a GREAT COLLEGE QUARTERBACK in MATT LEINART. In the world known as the internet, there is often chatter as to whether or not Matt is a great pro prospect. That is not relevant to this season or to this team. What is important is how he plays in college. In that light, with all due repsect to Pat Haden, Rodney Peete, Todd Marinovich, Rob Johnson, Paul McDonald and even Carson Palmer, with his winning record and overall accomplishments, Matt Leinart has earned my vote as the greatest quarterback I have ever seen play football at USC.
So now what? Well, all we can do is sit back, wait, watch and hope that all falls into place. We might take a slight step backwards this week in the minds of some, but, as fate would have it, SC has the nation to itself next week. Whereas most of the big rivalry games have already taken place, the Trojans and the Irish will be in the spotlight next Saturday night. USC is in perfect position to make a bigtime statement and to show the country that the best college football is actually played in the City of Angels. It could not have evolved any better for the Trojans. The opportunity is there, so now they have to seize it and run. It is truly a daunting task to get any team up game after game. Pete Carroll is a master at this. He keeps the team at somewhat of an even keel and there is no doubt in my mind that they will be ready and waiting for the Irish. And guess what? The very next week, we get to watch it all over again as the Trojans will then have to prepare for and play their other game, the one with boys in powder blue.