IN 2006…Defense wins championships – or in Ucla's case, keeps you in games. Going 6-5 is hardly a championship run but in their 2006 season have been some good wins to go along with some fairly miserable losses; Notre Dame comes to mind. What can the Bruin defense do against the most balanced offense they will have seen all year…
BACK THEN, IN THE BABY BLUE DARK AGES…The Bruins rang the bell for all to hear and showed little dignity in victory. Their athletic department took a piece of poor-sportsmanship by using a photo of a Ucla football player kneeling over a prone Trojan, whose hands are held up in self-defense and turned it into their preseason poster for the coming year. Their starting quarterback, with the score and game clearly out of reach, ran a naked bootleg instead of taking a knee, fans at every corner let the Trojan faithful know the King was dead "Long live the king!"
TODAY…Ucla's defense matches up in nearly every statistical category with the Trojans. They get excellent penetration with their ends, who lead the league in sacks. Their secondary is solid, as are the linebackers but perhaps what they are missing most is depth – depth that allows a team to start fast, stay strong and finish an opponent off. In 2006 the Trojans are deeper than they have ever been…
NEAR THE END OF THE BRUINS EIGHT YEAR RUN…They even seduced a local sportswriter to write his own epitaph when he coined... "This is a Bruin football town, has been a Bruin football town, and will continue to be a Bruin football town as long as the Bruins continue running the consistent, directed program so lacking across town."
What always made me laugh about that quote is that when you look at the history of the two programs Ucla's best run equaled USC's worst. That's as good as they ever got – those gutty little Bruins. My how things have changed. As my father would say, "think twice before you cut the wood because once you do, it's very hard to go back." That writer might have thought about the Trojans' history, what they had already accomplished and were bound to do again, because that is the nature of the beast, before he planted his flag on what turned out to be less than terra firma.
And unfortunately for Ucla that writer's words were heard; and as soon as they were uttered became the Trojans' battle cry. And the words the words were repeated and laughed about, echoing from Westwood to Downtown, a determination grew inside USC – it was time to take their town, the town they had helped build, back. So the Trojans got mad; mad as Hell and they weren't going take it anymore.
Then, along came Pete Carroll.
USC built this town, especially with its football program. It was big time entertainment when stars stood on every corner. USC was it, has always been it and continues to be it.
Before the Dodgers ever played in the Coliseum, it was the Trojans' home. Before the Rams ever took their first snap as LA's franchise of the NFL, USC was already a household name. USC is Los Angeles.
As an example of the ongoing Trojan legacy and in tribute to him today, a great Trojan, Larry Stevens, who was USC's oldest living football All-American first teamer, died on Wednesday (Nov. 29) in Sacramento, Calif. He was 95. Stevens, a 3-year (1931-33) letterman guard, earned All-American honors in 1933. He was a member of USC's 1931 and 1932 national championship teams. Both of those Howard Jones-coached "Thundering Herd" squads played in the Rose Bowl. He also was on the first Trojan team to beat Notre Dame in South Bend (1931). Troy had a 27-game unbeaten streak and 25-game winning streak during his career, during which time the Trojans went 3-0 against Notre Dame. That's just an example of how long USC has been getting done in the City of Angels. Fight On Forever, Larry.
SINCE THE BRUINS' CRAZY EIGHT…66-19, 47-22, 52-21, 27-Zip, and so on. That has been the Trojans revenge and what Ucla's time in new millennium has looked like.
In the eight years that Ucla did the unthinkable, not one National Championship, nor was a Heisman trophy placed in the Bruin trophy case. Beating USC was the only thing Ucla could beat their chest about.
During the same run for the Trojans, three Heismans, two National Championships and five Pac Ten titles have been delivered to Heritage Hall. That's how it's done in downtown.
Since total domination rolled over baby blue, it's been pretty bleak, for the Ucla Bruins, save 2004. And somehow 2004 has every writer in town speculating that this might be a game.
In that matchup, Ucla never led but they did threaten, getting as close as five points before the final gun sounded. This narrow loss somehow signaled to half of Los Angeles that Ucla was closing the gap with USC. To the other half of LA, the Trojans were doing what it took to survive this scrimmage and play Oklahoma for all the marbles come January.
During the undisputed season USC traveled to our Nation's Capital and beat Virginia Tech, destroyed arch rival Notre Dame by 31, leveled Cal, murdered ASU, UW and Arizona, hit the road and manhandled BYU, won every game but one in a 34 game stretch and saw the new darling in the world of college football waiting for the slaughter in the Orange Bowl and because of all that, they did what they had to do in '04 by keeping Bruins corralled just long enough to end the game.
Anybody who thinks it was anything more than that wasn't paying attention.
But because of that one game two seasons ago, and much like Cal's OT win over USC even further back than that, people have somehow managed to connect those dots into it all meaning that the Bruins just might, like Cal supposedly did, have the Trojans' number. Man, all I have to say, like I said two weeks ago – "that's some seriously flawed logic."
Hey, anything can happen in college football, right? Wrong. I've always said that any top 15 team can beat any top 5 team on any given Saturday but that's as close as the "anything can happen in college football" can ever get in my mind. And in this scenario, USC is top 5 and Ucla isn't even sniffing top 20. Talent, either with the staff, the players or both.
Top 5 teams are at that level for a reason and teams that are found below that are in their place for the exact same reason – their talent.
Sure there is parody in division 1 football; 85 scholarships per team does its best to ensure it. But when one team is constantly bringing in number one ranked recruiting classes and the other isn't even coming close, the results are witnessed on the field.
Six wins, five losses; that's what Ucla brings to Saturday's matchup against a team who hasn't lost five total games in the last five years. The last time these two teams met the margin was nearly 50 points but this year, because of close finish two years earlier this game is going to resemble the rivalries of old? I don't get it but let's look at how that might possibly come true…
I mentioned earlier, and have before that defense wins championships. In 2006 the Ucla defense has proven itself championship worthy by being almost as good as its cross-town counterparts in nearly every defensive category. This alone would almost guarantee a close game, right? They wish.
You see to have a defense as good as the Bruins fielded and still manage to lose five games means there must be a deficiency. For Ucla that deficiency exists in depth.
Experts pointed to USC and said there was no way a team could lose their entire backfield, along with two-thirds of an offensive line and keep winning the next season. Right idea, wrong team.
Ucla couldn't lose that talent, coming off a 10 win season, and keep on winning the following year because they didn't have the depth to get it done.
USC, however, with the cupboards stocked full of top recruiting classes could – they just needed to survive the growing pains of youth. Luckily for the Trojans they have the nation's best mentor in Pete Carroll. And in Pete, the Trojan Family has learned to trust.
Depth. Without it graduation, NFL matriculation and injury can spell doom. One downed player and their goes the season. See Ucla as an example. Ben Olson is lost to injury and a four game slump ensues. The world's smallest running back sprints early to the NFL yelling "thanks for everything" as he heads out the door, and with him goes the ground game.
The list goes on and proves that as good a coach as Karl Dorrell might be, he can't win without the total amount of talent it takes to truly dominate a game – especially against an opponent as talented as USC.
"But wait" cries the sportswriter or fan… "Oregon State beat USC and Ucla beat Oregon State so why wouldn't they have a chance?" Fair enough if you think the stars can align more than once.
If you think the Trojans are capable of self-destructing in a game that means their fourth straight appearance in a BCS championship game.
Or let's look at it this way; Oregon, the Pac's top ranked offense was given their only touchdown, Cal who is twice as dangerous as anything the Bruins can muster was completely shut down and the team that Ucla couldn't hold off for the final :60 seconds was never even in it, against the Trojans.
Sure, anything is possible. But it's not going to happen because as lovely as playing in the Rosebowl is for the Trojans, this year the bloom is definitely off the rose.
Think about it, why beat Michigan, who is neary as good as Ohio State and gain little more than what USC already has – a Pac Ten championship and a number two ranking when instead you can beat Ohio State, who won't have played a down of football in nearly two months, and have it all. That's motivation.
And that's why this Saturday's latest version of the greatest cross town rivalry anywhere in the world won't be anything but another step in the Trojans' season long goal of remaining on top of the college football world.
And this brings me to another issue I have with the media – who will do anything to sell a paper: Pete Carroll is not going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. The reasons are many but let's look at just a few and let's start with the biggest reason and the one that hinges it all together – Pete Carroll does things right.
I'll repeat that. Pete Carroll does things right. He has built a legacy at USC that not even John McKay can challenge and although like his most famous predecessor, he too will probably take one last NFL job, it won't be this year because that would be leaving things undone at USC and that goes against the adage that Pete Carroll does things right.
If Pete left now he'd be leaving behind the opportunity to be the greatest of all time and here's why. If his Trojans make it to this year's National Championship game and beat Ohio State they will be primed for a return engagement the following season.
Pete has already acknowledged that the 2007 version of the Trojans will be his best yet and very, very hard to beat. He won't walk out on the opportunity to be in five straight BCS championships and win four, or even three for that matter.
He just won't do it because it's too tempting to do what nobody has ever done before – own college football.
The next reason is there is no heir apparent and Pete will not walk out on the players he's worked so tirelessly to bring from across the nation without knowing who's going to take them the rest of the way.
He might be grooming someone from his staff but they are hardly their yet and there's no one ready out in the world of college coaching for him to hand the reigns of his baby to. It would be like shooting out the tires of a race car you took a lifetime to build. No money in the world would bring about that act if you'd put your passion into it.
Finally, as much as Pete might hunger for a chance to prove himself again at the NFL level, he knows it isn't a whole lot of fun and fun is what Pete's about. This SC job, as hard as it is, is about as fun as it gets. So if Pete leaves it's going to be for the perfect opportunity, not just a whole bunch of money. SF is still that job for him.
So let's put that rumor to rest, at least until the end of the 2007 season. Then all bets are off.
By the way, I don't believe any of the above is wishfull thinking, nor do I believe I have any idea what's in Pete's mind, I just feel like I've watched him long enough to know how he conducts himself and leaving abruptly isn't his style.
Right now all that matters is tomorrow and those gutty little Bruins. I know that no matter how completely confident I feel about the outcome, there is always that whisper coming out of nowhere that reminds me - in rivalry games anything can happen.
Just not this Saturday.
USC 37 Ucla 17