Speaking of home, twenty Nebraska players are "going back to Cali" as natives of our great state, but only one was truly sought after by the USC staff. Yes, Nebraska got Lucky with Marlon and USC took a gamble on CJ Gable. Gable had wanted to be a Trojan since he started playing football. Lucky didn't like the idea of all that competition at tailback. He wanted to be the featured player, not a kid constantly looking over his shoulder at the other members of his unit. At SC you win your job and you fight to keep it. That mentality is key to the recruits Pete Carroll signs. So, Pete Carroll and the entire USC coaching staff were at North Hollywood High watching his rival, Marlon Lucky, rack up 400 yards and eight touchdowns in a lower-division City playoff game. That same night CJ ran for 300 in his game. It was a toss up. The Trojan coaches liked both young men's talents on the field but they responded to CJ's heart. Then Lucky made it easy, after learning SC would take more than one back, he packed, his bags that is and headed to the Land of Lincoln. Both players will play Saturday and both will show why they were so highly sought after.
v Saturday will be the first time John David Booty will come down the tunnel at the Coliseum and enter the field as the Trojans' starting signal caller. That, in itself, makes this game huge. This game will be his day. A day he introduces himself, his wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and line, to the nation. Arkansas was a gentle nudge to the college football community, letting them know SC was hardly decimated by NFL flight. Saturday's game is USC pounding its fist on the door of another BCS championship run.
Oh boy, I can hear them now, Trojan fans thinking we should walk a bit more softly prior to a big game and Husker fans shocked at the lack of reverence offered to one of the nation's most successful programs but the fact that 400 or so red wave loyalists who bought Trojan season tickets and the additional 30 thousand expected to attend tells me differently – Huskers are hungry for good football. I don't blame them. If you lived in Nebraska you'd search high and low for it, and leave every chance you found it just beyond your state's borders.
Trojan fans have been warned that a red wave might descend upon Los Angeles and wash over the Coliseum. They've been told to show up early for even though many of the "Children of the Corn," don't have tickets, they are planning on Mid-West-sized bbq on our own front lawn. So be it. It'll be fun and probably a good lesson for Trojans on how to support your team. My experience with these folks is that they are much like Notre Dame fans – they hate losing but when the opponent is so good they can't stop it, they'll congratulate the winner on their way out the door. It's either that or they'll behave like Iowa and their country cousins Oklahoma did and make so much noise they won't even notice the game was over for them before it began. Time will tell.
Time has told an interesting story for both the Trojans and Cornhuskers. One has ascended while the other faded away. What was once a perennial contender is now just hoping to contend again. While the other is rewriting the record books. Tom Osborne is gone. 10 and 3 Frank Solich is gone. Tommy Frazier and the famous Nebraska offensive formations are gone. What's left is Bill Callahan and a fairly vanilla version of the West Coast offense; West Coast, as in California, as in Los Angeles, as in home of the USC Trojans and Pete Carroll. Even Taylor Mays is a bit surprised…
"We've been told that Nebraska's offense is a lot like ours, so just going against our offense since August has been great preparation. We know they have great athletes and run an NFL offense."
Great athletes, for certain, this is the Nebraska Cornhuskers after all, hardly a Nicholls State, but the level of that athlete is not what it used to be. The Trojans, on the other hand, have led the nation in recruiting for three years straight and the result of that effort has shown up in National Championships and Heisman trophies. Does anyone honestly think Nebraska is going to do it better than the guys who are masters of it? I don't and obviously neither does most Cornhusker fans.
Representing Californians for Nebraska, one of my all time favorite running backs, Roger "keep those legs churning" Craig of 49er fame, will be in attendance for the Saturday matchup. His comments on the state of Nebraska football can only be summed up like this "If we keep it close, it'll show that we are further along than last year." This isn't a "take no prisoners" battle cry but more of an early surrender. Across the board, most Cornhusker fans, even coaches, sound as if they'd be content just to hang in there for a few rounds. Considering that Solich got fired for losing three games, this is an odd shift for a blood-thirsty fan base. I could never imagine Osborne saying the following:
Callahan said: "This game against SC will truly be a measuring stick for our program. We're pleased with the start, but we've got a long way to go yet. We're excited about the challenge of coming out to Los Angeles and play against a premier program like SC."
There's no question Callahan is grasping in the dark on how to do battle against the Trojans. Evidence of this was found in published reports that their newly acquired scout team quarterback Sam Keller was game-planning with his head coach. Callahan better check Keller's stats versus the Men of Troy because if memory serves, the young qb threw five picks the last time he set foot on the Coliseum floor. Keller's a gamer but Taylor is their starter and the Huskers are better off for it – at least this year. Taylor is a mature signal caller who has finally found his comfort zone with the West Coast offense. With a performance like that, the Huskers are better off looking to Helen Keller, instead of Sam if they hope to get close to a win.
Jokes aside, this is hardly the blind leading the blind. Game Day is visiting and not just because it's Trojan football but because it's two great traditions on the field together – that's newsworthy and potentially the makings of an epic battle but not if one team barely believes they belong. Again, I can't imagine thirty thousand fans would travel have across the continent for a barbeque. Simple, these are two storied programs doing what they do best, playing classic college football. This is a game, in any year, past present or future that is a classic before the first kickoff.
This game should be a treat for every fan in attendance, be they from Lincoln or Los Angeles. It's one of the few times I could ever call a football game a win, win for everyone – Nebraska doesn't expect to win, just compete. They're happy as Pigs in… oh that was last game… They're happy just to get out of Nebraska and watch some quality football. And USC, well we're just happy to oblige.
Keys to the game – both lines. Can USC protect John David Booty from Nebraska's vaunted d-line, which led 2005 in sacks? Or will the Trojan offensive line, averaging 6'5 and 300 lbs quickly be known as the immovable force? I'm already having t-shirts made up with "The Immovable Force" so you know where my vote is headed.
It's Offensive guru, Callahan versus Defensive guru Carroll. Someone's going to remain a guru while someone else is going to be a guess who – again, SC gets the edge.
And off the edge, can Nebraska contain the speed of SC's defense. I think there two warm up games before arriving in LA will not serve as much help. The answer; no. Cushing, Jackson and Rivers will wreak havoc in the Nebraska backfield and Marlon won't be feeling too Lucky anymore, spending more time blocking than ever running, unless it's for cover.
The crowd could be a major factor. I challenge sixty-five thousand SC fans to make more noise than twenty-five thousand Nebraska fans. The "A" in LA could stand for ambivalence when it comes to fan participation. We don't get into it as much, cause it just isn't cool. Folks from Nebraska have never heard the word cool and equated it to the passion they have for football –it's do or die all the time. It's important that the Trojan players never feel like they don't have homefield advantage in their… homefield. So make some noise Trojan fans. We will be a factor in this victory – lopsided as it probably will be.
So, that's it – the lines, coaching and fans will be a huge determinant in the outcome of this game. Oh, so will team speed, which SC has a lot more of and probably the best running backs and wide receiver and tight end units in the nation. SC wins, big, much bigger than the spread putting another fitty on the board and holding a top twenty team to about their current ranking. You heard it here first – SC 50 Nebraska 17.