The Long and Winding Road

Enjoy what's taking place at USC because it wasn't long ago the Trojans finished last in the Pac-10. Enjoy the sights and sounds on a Saturday afternoon and evening at the Coliseum. The seniors on this year's team and those who might enter the NFL draft won't be around much longer. However, when their time is up, there's always another Trojan eagerly waiting to replace them.

"I know it drives you guys crazy, but it works just like we planned it would." That's what Pete Carroll has said about his "bend-don't-break" defense the past one and three-quarter quarter seasons.

Last season, the defense broke on a few occasions, but the offensive firepower the Trojans fielded was able to make up for those breaks because the USC had a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and a future Heisman Trophy-winning running back. Itt could be argued that USC had another future Heisman Trophy candidate in LenDale White, had he chosen to stay for his senior season instead of entering the 2006 NFL draft. I'm not sure any team has lost as much quality offensive talent who were underclassmen in recent memory.

? Besides Leinart, Bush and White, SC lost starting offensive tackle Winston Justice and starting offensive guard Fred Matua. Had they returned, the Trojan's offensive line would have been a crew that might have been considered the most experienced quality offensive line in the country. That said, USC still has one of the finest offensive lines in the nation and it's gotten better each week.

Despite dealing with key injuries at various points of the season, playing 15 true freshmen and a first-year quarterback, the Trojans have overcome adversity and can pave their own path to the BCS Championship. How can that possibly be after losing to unranked Oregon State a little over four weeks ago? Didn't I read an article in the Los Angeles Times claiming USC was dead and the so-called dynasty was over? Weren't some USC fans claiming that the Trojans couldn't beat Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA to finish the season because Lane Kiffin didn't know what he was doing--yeah, but the fans do, right? Maybe next year Pete Carroll will ask the fans to mail in their scripts for the offense. In all my years of attending USC football games, I've never experienced so many whiney and complaining fans.

But, but, but, the Trojans have sooooo much talent and they should be able to beat every team with less talent, and blow out teams like Washington and Oregon State. That's true in theory, but the U.S. Olympic basketball team also has the most talented athletes. Is there any doubt the Dream Team has more talent than Argentina or Greece or whoever they've lost to the last few years? Sometimes great athletes need to grow as football players and a team must gel.

How many great USC teams in the past have lost to lesser talented teams by turning the ball over four times like the Trojans did at Corvallis? Heck, it's not even the first time USC has done that against the Beavers. Think about this -- the Trojans haven't lost an out-of-conference regular season game since Notre Dame 2001. The list of teams USC has faced and beaten the last four years is impressive, too. USC defeated unranked Auburn in 2002 and No. 8 ranked Auburn in 2003, No. 7 ranked Notre Dame in 2002 and No. 9 ranked Notre Dame in an epic battle in 2005, traveled to D.C to face a Virginia Tech team that finished the season ranked No. 11, and faced No. 22 Nebraska and No. 6 Arkansas this season. Not many of the top programs have had the nerve to schedule like USC has. Veteran football observer Beano Cook once said that the Trojans ``would be willing to schedule the German army'' if they had to in order to win a national championship.

Of course, fans from teams in the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten claim the Trojans have to schedule tough out-of-conference teams because the Pac-10 is weak and the only solid team is USC. Uh, no, that's not the case. What happened to Michigan in 2003 when the Wolverines traveled to Eugene, lost to the Ducks and a few months later, to the Trojans in the 2004 Rose Bowl? Was Michigan too tough and physical for the weak Pac-10? What about the proud Beavers who traveled to Baton Rouge in 2004 and lost in overtime to LSU because their kicker managed to miss four chip shots? That year Oregon State finished the season 7-5 and beat Notre Dame in the Insight Bowl. Was Oregon State a weak team? I think not, but you'd never know it when listening to the media and fans across the country. It's not even worth mentioning that the Pac-10 plays far more out-of-conference road games than any other major conference. Did I mention that Ohio State had eight home games in 2002 and LSU had eight home games this year? I read a claim that Oregon State had never beaten an SEC team. That is correct, and the Beavers have never lost a game to an SEC team at home, either. You get the picture.

It should also be noted that the Pac-10 plays a complete schedule this year, meaning five teams are guaranteed one more loss than if the schools had scheduled Blue Ridge Mountain State.

So, here you are, Trojan fans, two games away from a shot at the Ohio State Buckeyes. It's been far too long since USC and Ohio State have faced each other. Wouldn't it make the home-and-home games beginning in 2008 and 2009 much more interesting with one team having revenge on its mind?

Although the road to the BCS National Championship game is clear, there are two obstacles en route.

Notre Dame has become a national power since Charlie Weis took the helm in South Bend. Last year, with much more talent and speed, the Trojans struggled against a relatively slow defense and squeaked out a last second victory after a heroic and career-defining drive led by Matt Leinart. This year the grass will be cut lower, allowing the Trojans' team speed to be much more of a factor, especially on defense. There's no comparing how last year's USC defense played at the end of the season to this years. Pete Carroll is allowing his guys to be much more aggressive in recent weeks and the results have proven it's paying off. The Trojans have allowed two touchdowns in the last 13 quarters. Sure, four of those quarters were against Stanford, so that's nothing to chest-thump about. However, allowing two prolific offenses in Cal and Oregon a touchdown apiece is extremely impressive to this college football fan.

Dwayne Walker improved UCLA's defense the moment he stepped foot in Westwood and we've seen some impressive performances this year from the Bruins. Their problem is the offense hasn't been able to score many points and that's put a lot of pressure on the defense. The Bruins played well enough defensively against Notre Dame, but not when it mattered. They did manage to hold Oregon State to seven points and Arizona State to 12 the past two weeks, so the Trojans should expect UCLA to play with passion and pride. The game is at the Rose Bowl and USC struggled the last time it played there.

Get by the Irish and Bruins, and USC will be playing for its fourth national championship in as many years. We could go on and on about everything the Trojans have accomplished since Pete Carroll was hired, but you know the story.

Enjoy what's taking place at USC because it wasn't long ago the Trojans finished last in the Pac-10. Enjoy watching John David Booty toss touchdowns to Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. Enjoy watching Ryan Kalil be the first to congratulate Chauncey Washington or C.J. Gable after they score touchdowns. Enjoy Kyle Williams open up a lane for a running back and enjoy watching him fight off those who would like nothing more than to take Booty's head off. Enjoy Dallas Sartz breaking up passes key passes in key games. Enjoy the sights and sounds on a Saturday afternoon and evening at the Coliseum. The seniors on this year's team and those who might enter the NFL draft won't be around much longer. However, when their time is up, there's always another Trojan eagerly waiting to replace them. It's what the Pete Carroll designed system is supposed to do and he continually sums it up with these words, "We just want to see how far we can take this."


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