During games over the past two weeks, I've noticed Arizona, Cal and Washington State fans all performing the Florida "Gator bait" hand clap. I really hope there's an individual explanation from each fan base, other than, "Ummm, Florida does it."
At any point during a college football game, if you find yourself sticking both of your arms straight out in front of you and clapping your hands together while keeping your elbows locked, you'd better be rooting for either the Gators, Crocodiles, Isosceles Triangles or the Frankenstein Monsters.
It makes absolutely no sense to do it while rooting for the Bears, Wildcats or Cougars. Northwestern's nickname is the Wildcats and they had no problem coming up with a hand-claw thing for their student section to do. Notre Dame's students do that paper-football-field-goal hand motion during celebrations and, of course, the Trojans have the Victory sign. Those all work. They're specific and immediately recognizable to each team. The outstretched handclap is individual as well, as long as you are at a University of Florida game.
The Butterfly Effect:
The worst thing that happened to this 2006 Trojan football team was the 2005 Trojan football team.
With the exception of Nebraska, Notre Dame and, I suppose, Arizona State, every single team on the Trojans' schedule this season has the memory of being thoroughly embarrassed by the Trojans last season ingrained in their minds. For all those teams, the game against the Trojans is their chance to recover their pride and take their revenge.
The funny thing is, barely any of the players on this year's Trojan team were responsible for any part of the beatdowns administered during the 2005 season.
It's like a young kid going through high school and getting classes with teachers who just suffered through his older, obnoxious, class-clown of a brother. The kid has done nothing wrong, yet goes into each classroom (stadium) already behind the eight-ball with his teacher (opponent) gunning for him because of his family heritage.
Of course, the great things that have come out of the Trojans' first three victories this season (against teams they will play again next season) are the sense of confidence and moral victories that their opponents have gained in playing the Trojans close. But, the bad news for these teams is that if you don't beat the Trojans this season, chances are, you're not going to beat them for the next two or three years, at least.
Age Before Beauty:
I think that if someone is overly disappointed in the way this Trojan team has performed through four games this season, the blame can be put squarely on their own shoulders.
The problem is that we, as Trojan fans, convinced ourselves that the talent stepping in was just as good as the talent stepping out.
I was as guilty of it as anyone. After spending all of August watching the Trojans at almost every single practice, I was convinced that every starter – offensive and defensive – would earn All-Conference status at the end of the year. A handful would be All-Americans and the entire two-deep lineup would be mentioned on either the second or third All-Pac-10 teams.
But I, and I think some other people, forgot that in college football, experience cannot be compensated for, and talent alone can only go so far.
For instance, in Saturday's game, Rey Maualuga, who is undoubtedly the Trojans' best defensive player right now, badly overran a toss sweep early in the first quarter, got shoved out of a play by a lineman on another, and several times, picked the wrong hole on running plays up the middle. None of those things happened because he isn't a great player; they happened because he's in his second season at USC and his first as a full-time starter. But despite that lack of experience, Maualuga's pure talent has garnered him 31 tackles, a sack and an interception through the season's first four games.
And that's how this season has gone so far for the Trojans. With the exception of Steve Smith, Sam Baker and Ryan Kalil on offense, and Lawrence Jackson, Keith Rivers and Dallas Sartz on defense, each person starting against Washington State was a first-year starter. Sure, you can argue that Terrell Thomas, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga had previous starting experience, but it's no more than a handful of games.
The point is that this season, through four games, the Trojans' inexperienced talent has been better than every other teams' experienced talent. None of the four teams thus far, and certainly not the Cougars, have started as few as six returning starters.
And this doesn't even take into account the injury situation. Against Arkansas, the Trojans had Dwayne Jarrett, Josh Pinkard and Sedrick Ellis – all with starting experience (as well as Ryan Powdrell, whose injury has been devastating to the Trojan offense thus far) – and look what they were able to do to an SEC team on the road.
The guys playing against Arizona and Washington State were second-string nickel backs, spot starters due to injury and high school seniors last season. So many of them just aren't used to being the go-to guy when a big play needs to be made. It takes most players more than a few games to blossom in situations that dictate a brighter spotlight, so as we watch the Trojans settle into these new roles, the performances should start to be more and more natural for them.
Over the next few weeks, we're going to find out if this team can combine that talent with their newfound experience in order to be perfect on every play.
Running Back, Kicks:
It seems like forever since the Trojans took off on a long kickoff return, so watching C.J. Gable take his first kickoff back 55 yards was especially nice. The upgrade from Cary Harris to Gable was obvious after that very first cut back across the field. While Harris was solid in following his blockers and hitting the crease with a full head of steam, Gable has that offensive mentality of a running back and is always looking at the next level. In re-watching the play, it's fairly easy to predict that Harris would have followed his blocker toward that right sideline and ended up with something of a decent return, but nothing compared to what Gable ripped off.
I don't think that's the last big return we'll see from Gable.
There's No ‘I' In McFoy (Don't Ask About Chris):
While watching Trojan games on television, I don't think I'd ever pumped my fist and shouted after a play (especially when watching by myself) until the Trojans' first touchdown on Saturday afternoon.
There isn't a single guy on the USC roster who deserved a touchdown more than Chris McFoy. In fact, I bet you'd be hard-pressed to find a more deserving guy in all of college football.
His clutch catches and persistent downfield blocking have been a vital cog of the potent Trojan attack the past several years and I know more than a few people were rooting like heck for all of his hard, understated work to finally be paid off with a touchdown.
But the best part of this whole thing wasn't the fact that McFoy finally got his touchdown. It was that when he grabbed that pass and slammed those feet down in the endzone, he had all the reasons in the world to act like so many other football players who pose and prance about like they've never been there before. And McFoy would have been able to actually use that excuse.
Instead, McFoy responded as if he lived in the end zone, bringing the ball with him to the sideline to celebrate with his teammates, illustrating exactly what he's always been: The consummate team player.
It's All About The Ball:
The biggest thing over the past two games has been the fact that the Trojans haven't come out on top in the turnover battle. This season, with the new clock rules cutting down on the number of possessions per game, turnovers have become even more important.
Arkansas' fumbles left them with no hope of winning. Nebraska's fumble opening the second half led to a Trojan touchdown, putting the game out of reach.
At Arizona, Chauncey Washington fumbled midway through the second quarter, with the Trojans in great field position and looking to go up 10-0. The subsequent change in the crowd's demeanor as well as field position enabled the Wildcats to cruise all the way to halftime, keeping the Trojans within three points.
Against Washington State, the Trojans were up 7-3 and driving yet again before Patrick Turner's fumble changed the complexion of the game. At 14-3, the Cougar fans and the team wouldn't have been nearly as into the game as they were once they pounced on the loose ball and drove to cut the score to 7-6.
Committing turnovers as the visiting team is the quickest way to let the crowd generate momentum and to lose control of the game. Luckily, the Trojans were too talented on Saturday to let the latter happen, and they won't have to deal with the former for the next three weeks.