Wednesday Night Lights

In Texas, football is a way of life. There is nothing bigger in the state of BIG things. That said, the Rose's of the Rosebowl are California red, not Texas yellow. And as much as the Longhorns pretend to be California locals because of a visit they paid last season, round this time, make no mistake, they're tourists: strangers in a strange land where the National Championship game isn't being played at the Alamo, but instead, on Trojan turf.

The USC Trojans are the defending national champions. They are on the verge of completing a modern era college football first – a Trifecta: three consecutive national championship victories.

The near impossible road the Men of Troy have traversed has been full of bumps, dips and a near fatal wreck one Autumn night in Southbend, Indiana. Through it all, though, Pete Carroll college football's greatest navigator, seems to have learned a very valuable lesson – "there's no place like home."

And it is home where the Trojans have stayed to play this, the most hyped college bowl matchup in the history of the game. But is it "much ado about nothing" or truly a case of "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest college football team of them all?"

55 to 19. That's what happened the last time the Trojans took on a team from America's dust bowl. Billed as the best game to ever grace the landscape of great nation, it proved to be anything but.

Bob Stoops, head coach of said repository, spent more time kicking his headset around, then using it and before you knew it, the Trojans had left their mark on yet another wannabe football team.

Stoops was arrogant enough to believe his boys could just play Sooner football, shut Reggie down and the rest would come easy. He was wrong, dead wrong. Mack Brown, his panhandle peer, makes it sound as though he's learned from Bob's blunder.

Nick Aliotti, long time respected defensive coordinator and a man who's faced the Trojans on several sidelines said: "We played "Where's Waldo" with regard to Reggie Bush. Wherever he was, we put two people. That was our game-plan."

Following that proved to be a sure recipe for disaster, as the door, or in this case gaping whole in the defensive line, was opened wide allowing Thunder aka Lendale White to announce his arrival with a sonic-sized boom.

White seems to have that affect on games – making his presence known when teams get spellbound by Bush.

Recognizing this makes Mack Brown, the Longhorns head honcho, a whole different hombre than a Bob Stoops. Mack's humble (despite his smarmy, side-show barker personality) enough to know he's got his hands full trying to shut down the entire Trojan offense, not just one man. And smart enough to realize you can't treat USC just like any other team. The question is, how can he do what no one else has managed in 37 games and counting?"

Aliotti: "USC has athletes coming out the kazoo. But again, I keep going back that Texas just might have the right combination of guys to combat this football team."

Really, Nick? How? Guess we start at the most obvious of places for the Longhorns, Vince Young.

Stopping Vince Young has proven to as equally, if not more difficult, than catching a snapshot of Reggie Bush without high-speed film.

Young's got the size of Matt Leinart and the ballroom moves of Baryshnikov. He glides, not runs: much like former Trojan wideout, Mike Williams. In fact, the two are very similar physically, except I like Mike a whole lot more because, well, he's a Trojan.

Much like my sister, Vince flicks the ball, instead of throwing it. Those flicks however silly they might look, have been on target nearly 65% of the time this year and increased his aerial productivity to over 100 more yards per game than in 2004. He leads his team in nearly every offensive category and if he could somehow catch his own passes, would lead Texas in it all.

One would think, with that said, stop Vince, you stop Texas. "Much ado about nothing."

If one thought that, you'd end up sharing a table with Bob Stoops at a dinner for those who weren't prepared when faced with the biggest moments of their lives. Nothing worse than looking at a plate full of food when you've lost your appetite.

On offense, Texas has their own version of Reggie in Ramonce (it should've been Romance, cause how cool is that?) Taylor, a speedy tailback and dynamite kick returner, their own Dwayne Jarrett in Limas Sweed, who at 6'5" and 215lbs could be DJ's clone, their own Dominque Byrd with leading receiver, senior tight end David Thomas, a sweet version of Steve Smith in sophomore Billy Pittman, who averages nearly 30 yards per catch and an offensive line that weighs. on average, every ounce of their Trojan counterparts.

Check that, the Texas o-line tips the scale at slightly more than Troy. Of course this became the case just after the traditional Lawry's visit. Rumor has it Bevo's been missing since the Beef Bowl. I wonder if the Longhorn staff will tell their team that "Bevo, it's what's for dinner" before or after the game?

You go to the defensive side of things and this same story continues with Thorpe winner Michael Huff at safety doing, perhaps a better version of Darnell Bing, senior All-America defensive tackle Rodrique Wright (6-5, 315, 13 tac., 4.5 sacks) -- a finalist for the Lombardi Award, looking every bit a Ramsey or Ellis…

These two teams are so evenly matched, even their sign they make to salute their respective teams is separated by just two fingers. I mean, it's downright scary when you stop and think about it.

Pete Carroll was asked by a representative of the media, the last time he could recall to programs being compared so closely. He smiled, (just a bit) and answered… "Sure, last year."

And that, my fellow Trojans, is where the difference lies and has in every single game since this remarkable winning streak began for the University of Southern California – coaching.

Mack Brown, despite his accomplishments, simply is not Pete Carroll. In fact, throw Gene Chizik in the mix and you still don't have Saint Pete.

"Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat…" is what I think when I marvel at what Carroll and company has done with the Trojan defense this year. They may not have been the Bad News Bears, but there were enough defections to look like an illegal border crossing.

Through it all, Pete prevailed and in so doing, proved no one prepares like him. Now, 12 wins into the season no one thought could be championed, the Trojan defense is playing its best ball.

The speed of Young will be matched by SC linebackers Rivers and Cushing. The time it takes to get Ramonce to the end will be snatched by Frostee and Lawrence. The over-the-middle pass catches by tight end Thomas will be crushed by Bing and Ware. And finally, from the top of the Trojan Organizational Chart, every scheme that glad-handing Brown can muster, Pete will have already thought of.

Is it going to be a wipeout, reminiscent to the Sooner debacle? No, it'll be a game for 60 minutes. 12, five minute rounds of the greatest heavy weight battle the world's ever seen. Punch for punch. Jab for jab. Counter until the other can't counter no more.

The Rumble in the Jungle, Thriller in Manila… shoot, King Kong ain't got nothin' on this – it's gonna be primetime and the Trojans will be the star of the show.

Don't get me wrong, Texas is a great football team. Hell, they're 12 and 0, just like SC. I take that back. They're 12 and 0, but not just like the Trojans are 12 and 0. Texas has never played a season with a target on their back. Like the fastest gun in an old West town, SC's played two. They've never defended much ‘cept some old fort and when they were faced with that challenge, they found themselves outmanned that time, too.

When Texas players were recently interviewed to talk about their "dream moments" in college football, they gave answers like this: "I'd like to pass for the winning touchdown in the national championship game" – heck, Leinart's done that so many times it's hardly news. "I'd like to hold that crystal ball up for the nation to see." Done it. "I'd like to get round end, ball in my hands, and see nothing but green in front of me, all the way to the endzone, beating the other team with ease." You been watching Trojan Rewind?

You get my message, this fantasy land Texas dreams about, USC calls home. And if you think that means the Longhorns want it more or that the Trojans have become complacent, then you haven't been watching SC football.

This last game is just that, the last game in a master-plan devised by Pete and executed by his men on the field. This isn't "gee it'd be great to do that time," it's plant the SC flag and fulfill a little destiny time. This is a Trojan, right of passage, the last sold out show of the "Leave No Doubt" tour. And nobody, as great as they might be, has enough game to slow the tour bus down.

Let me put it in more "football friendly terms." Texas often stops the run with its big, athletic secondary. Three of the four leading tacklers are in the secondary: safety Michael Griffin (116 tackles), Thorpe Award-winning safety Michael Huff (97) and cornerback Cedric Griffin (78) .

When 3 of 4 leading tackler reside in your secondary, and you're facing Thunder and Lightening, you can bet on rain. As one coach who's already faced both teams pointed out… "The number of weapons USC has will be the difference in the game. The way they, SC, runs the ball, they can run at Texas. If their secondary comes up, I think you'll see a lot of play-action passing from USC. I know we had one play when Texas all came up and our receiver was wide open by 30 yards for a touchdown. I can see SC getting that opportunity a lot."

It's hard to predict the future but if I could, I'd see this – SC goes to the pass on it's first drive for two complete sets of downs. The passes are mid-range 10-15 yarders, forcing the Longhorns to move their secondary back, trying to keep Jarrett and Smith in front of them. Bush is involved in this aerial assault as the third set of downs begins. It's a wheel route, the Trojans' bread and butter and it goes for 20.

That's when White is introduced to the ball game and like an battering-ram on ice skates, he slices and dices through so much burnt orange the field looks like a California sunset – a thing of beauty.

Through that entire first series, neither Turner, nor our two Tight Ends are used. Leinart is magnificent (as so labeled). Now it's Vince and Mack's turn. They'll score, as SC adjusts to Young's speed and the pass-option. That's okay, because it puts Leinart and his boys back on the field, only this series is Turner time.

The ground game will become our best friend and Patrick Turner, with Jarrett and Smith as decoys, will be found by Leinart down the sideline for another score. This is when the big red panic button will start throbbing in Mack Brown's head and his face will contort with the pain of knowing, it's not gonna be his day.

The thing that makes Matt Leinart the best quarterback to ever play college football is not his running or throwing, but his brain. Leinart is a coach on the field. Young is not. And without a clear thinking coach on the sideline, the Longhorns will be like a ship without its keel – belly up and taking water.

Two quarters in and Texas, only one score behind, will sense the Rosebowl walls collapsing in around them. This is when Young will try to do too much, because he really is, his team's best shot at bringing home the crystal. He failed winning the stiff-armed little fellow, he's not going to fumble all that glass. But fumble he does and away go the Trojans – not with the passing game, but with the grind ‘em up running game that will ground Bevo into burger.

There will be a fourth quarter comeback, exciting enough for the television audience to not change the channel, but it won't be enough and USC will do what God (who, once again, we all know is a Trojan) intended by winning its third championship. Young will not have played a bad game but also not a great one and this will prompt him to stay for his senior year ala his hero, Matt Leinart.

Leinart will win MVP but through tears, give it up to his team. Lendale will lead the band in Conquest and this will signal his departure, which is okay because he's done carried the rock for three years straight.

Most the Trojans who can declare early will, as after this victory how much better can it get… They'll regret their decisions later but they are just young men after all and that's when life's greatest lessons are most often learned. Young's return to college football will see him winning the Heisman, beating out Brady Quinn and Maurice Drew, which will make all of Troy laugh aloud over our rivals' suffering.

Why not have a laugh? It'll be a Trojan who claims the hardware in 2007 to help stake the claim that SC is king of the college game. It's good to be the king. And besides, Vince Young's a nice enough guy who came back, for all the right reasons.

This is the icing on the cake, Trojan fans. SC's back – all the way back. Enjoy the moment. Know next year will be loaded down with new kids in lots of spots. But we'll be balanced and better than most. We'll match "the streak" and put Karl in the hotseat. Charlie will look as confounded on the sidelines of the Coliseum as he did at the Fiesta bowl.

And Pete, well Pete will continue to be Pete, sly grin on his face, sparkle in his eyes and a love for the game that was the key ingredient to making him the greatest coach in the history of college football.

Final score (and if any of you have been keeping it... I may not have always been right, but I've never been wrong, at least this season) – USC 45 UT 35


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