Who knew this would be the greatest matchup in college football history?
Doesn't sound like the place where a bloodbath might take place. Tell that to Tony Montana or the USC Trojans just a few years ago – like a hurricane, both destroyed everything in their paths the last time they visited America's paradise.
"War Time" was the chant that erupted from the Trojans as they marched down the tunnel into the Orange Bowl, scaring the bejeezus out of the boys in yellow and black.
"War Time" was a declaration of sorts for USC, who had been sold off to the nation as the weaker opponent against their Hawkeye football brethren. They were saying to all who would listen, and as then Trojan Justin Fargas put it, "Man we came here to bring it and we weren't leaving till it was done." SC had something to prove. But as Pete Carroll screamed to his players and fans from the center of the field, hoisting the Orange Bowl trophy into the sky… "We're just getting started!"
Two years later, a Rosebowl victory, Co-National Championship and back, once again, to the Orange Bowl, this time, not just for a slice but for the whole pie.
Mirror, mirror - the phrase used this year to describe the two teams about to go to this year's war – the University of Southern California Trojans meet the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Heisman winning quarterbacks, game breaking tailbacks, the game's two best mascots… these two schools have it all. Two great teams from two of the most tradition rich programs in college football square off to decide who's got what it takes, this time ‘round.
"This time, ‘round…" should truly belong to the Sooners. SC won their share of the National Title last year. Oklahoma lost, so they seem due. SC fields only a handful of seniors surrounded by underclassmen. Oklahoma has, what seems like, only one underclassmen. Who happens also to be their best player. Experience is one of the keys to success in college ball, again advantage OK. But if the above were absolutes, then why even play the game. After all, the exact same things were said the last time the Trojans rolled into town… "No way they win against the size and power of a big corn-fed team from the heart of America." Tell that to the seventy-five thousand Hawkeye fans who were gone before the third quarter ended.
Still, logic says… you and I both know, this is college football and logic rarely determines the final outcome. It's all about blood and guts, X's and O's, my man against yours and on and on…
The X and O factor, or for USC… it might just be the O factor - Coach O, Ed Orgeron. Five years with the Trojans and in that time, he's turned his charges, the defensive line, into the most respected group in America. He has set a precedent with First round draft choices and All Americans that hopefully will continue long after Coach O is gone, off to run his own team at Ole Miss. But before he goes, it wouldn't be shocking to see his boys, now men, give him the game of their lives – this could be the ultimate factor, the O factor, to a win for the Trojans. The strength for Oklahoma is their offensive line. There's only one way to mitigate that and that is with a great defensive front, like SC's.
That's not to say the other coaches won't play their part. Oklahoma has a group that averages eleven wins per season. USC matches that with the best offensive and defensive coordinators in the nation, bar none and the nation's longest winning streak.
The skill positions for both teams are locked and loaded – AD, for the Sooners is the best big back in the country – nearly 50% of his yards come after first contact. The Trojans have their own version of an outstanding running game but they do it with a one-two punch in Thunder and Lightening, Lendale White and Reggie Bush. Bush got most the press, but White gets most the yards – whoever carries the ball, they both get the job done.
Quarterbacks, both Heisman winners, both team leaders, both cool under pressure, both outstanding at their position. The difference has got to be…their bosses. Nobody puts together an offense like the Trojan's Norm Chow – nobody. Four weeks to prepare for Norm would be like putting Bobby Fisher up against a good park player – you know who's going to win. Norm, every time.
So, throw out the "who should and history dictates…" this game is as good a match up as it gets. The two best teams in the country, each with a Heisman winner and a runner up as starters. The best coaching that has come to the game in two decades or more, and the fans… the most loyal one could hope to find, all under one roof for the greatest game in college football history.
Nobody knows how it's going to end, only that it will. One team will be left holding the trophy, the other will be left… left to appreciate what a great season they had and how close they came to winning it all. There is no shame in going undefeated for the regular season and being invited to the National Championship game. There can only be pride in a job well done, and I for one, hope the Trojans are gracious and remind the Sooners of that as they exit the stadium together.
For the Sooners, with all their seniors and potential early exit juniors, coupled with the memories of last year, this should be their shot – eh, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts… you know the rest.
I don't know how it's going to turn out and I really don't care. I'm thrilled for our guys to be here and thrilled to get to be a part of the celebration. For me, and I hope everyone else, either on the field, in the stands or at home, this has got to be, "As good as it gets."
USC 30 OU 28