The Obvious - Embarking on their most critical November stretch since the 1995 Rose Bowl season, the national ascending USC Trojans, 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the Pac-10, return to the Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday afternoon for a Homecoming engagement with the Arizona State Sun Devils, the only conference school that USC doesn't have a winning record.
The Not So Obvious - Despite a two-game losing streak and some key injuries, Arizona State is still only one game behind the Trojans in the Pac-10 standings and tied for third with UCLA, thus keeping all sorts of bowl destinations for all parties in limbo.
The Obvious - Two weeks ago, ASU was 16th ranked in the Associated Press poll and thinking Rose Bowl.
The Not So Obvious - In last week's 55-38 loss against Cal, the Sun Devils self-destructed with three fumbles and a blocked punt. The Sun Devils also had an intercepetion and a punt returned for California scores.
The Obvious - ASU is still in the hunt for a bowl, and this is what makes the Sun Devils so dangerous for the Trojans.
The Not So Obvious - Star ASU reciever Shaun McDonald says, "We're bowl eligible, but we're not really. We can't lose four game in a row and think we're still going to a bowl."
The Obvious - The USC ticket department must have known something that the rest of us didn't know about Carson Palmer's late drive for the Heisman Trophy. They have Palmer pictured on the USC/ASU Homecoming game ticket.
The Not So Obvious - USC has a 50-24-4 record in Homecoming games dating back to 1924. This Homecoming game comes at the right time for Pete Carroll and distracts his troops from looking ahead to phase three of the season - UCLA and Notre Dame.
The Obvious - Thanks to a bye week and a nasty schedule, the Trojans have not played at home in the Coliseum since October 19th when they defeated Washington 41-21.
The Not So Obvious - While the Trojans are 14-plus favorites to defeat Arizona State, the Trojans' fans would be best served to remember that Arizona State brings to the Coliseum a productive quarterback in Andrew Walter, who has had four games with over 400 yards passing.
The Obvious - Arizona State has had some great quarterbakcs make their way to Tempe over the years. Jake "The Snake" Plummer comes to mind as one of the latest in a long line.
The Not So Obvious - If you doubt the threat of current quarterback Andrew Walter to the Trojans on Saturday afternoon, just know that Walter has surpassed Danny White in single-season passing yards (2992).
The Obvious - The Trojans conclude the regular season by having their two of their final three regular season games played at the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious - The Trojans' win steak at the Coliseum has run to seven straight games. The current streak is the longest home streak since USC won ten in a row during 1987-88.
The Obvious - Former Trojan players are finally returning to the Coliseum, and there is a renewed pride and optimism for the direction of Pete Carroll's program.
The Not So Obvious - The Daily News quoted Anthony Davis as saying, " If they (the Trojans) win their next three games, they're the 'SC of old. They'll have established themselves as a power. They haven't been that way in years. I could be wrong, but I think they're on their way."
The Obvious - With all those television breaks and two teams that like to pass, Trojan fans might consider bringing an extra cushion to the game, since it would appear this game has all the marks of a four-plus hour game.
The Not So Obvious - Arizona State has attempted 50 passes in three of its last four games. Coliseum coffee sales may go higher than the roasted corn.
The Obvious - The ASU running game has really struggled this Pac-10 season averaging just 33.2 yards against Pac-10 fronts, which shows just how powerful the passing offense has been to allow the Sun Devils to illuminate the scoreboard at 34 points per game.
The Not So Obvious - One Sun Devil who would like the running game to return for his own personal homecoming is former Lakewood Mayfair star running back Mike Williams. In his senior year at Mayfair, Williams was once a first-team nine vote-getter in the prestigious Long Beach Press-Telegram Best in the West, which ranks the top senior players on the West Coast.
The Obvious - The Trojans will salute Southern California's championship teams during the ASU game on Saturday. Included in the salute will be the Angels, Lakers, Sparks, and Galaxy.
The Not So Obvious - One of the representatives for the Angels will be star slugger Tim Salmon. Salmon has Trojan roots for his brother Mike Salmon played in the Trojans' secondary in 1990-93.
The Obvious - Part of the rise of Carson Palmer's "Road to the Heisman" has been the decline of killer intercepetions, which seemed to follow him earlier this year and his ability to find the weak spots in the opponent's secondary.
The Not So Obvious - Carson should beware of ASU's Brett Hudson, who is third in Pac-10 interceptions. Conversely, look for Palmer and his stellar receivers to search for Sun Devil corner Josh Golden, a redshirt freshman, who was burned for two touchdowns last week against California.
The Obvious - Sometime during the ASU game, Trojan fans will discuss the possible post-season bowl destinations of their beloved Trojans. Is there a chance the Trojans will be in Miami for the Orange Bowl?
The Not So Obvious - Don't count on plane reservations to Miami if the Trojans sweep the next three games, which includes Notre Dame. Past Orange Bowl president Art Hertz informs, "We have to put asses in seats. Notre Dame will fill us up. The way the system is now, if we don't sell our tickets, we're in the hole." As Howard Cosell would say, "That's telling it like it is!"
The Obvious - While your ASU game ticket is priced at $30 a game ticket to this year's Orange Bowl is $100 smackers while a visit to Pasadena on New Years will cost $125 bucks.
The Not So Obvious - Planning a trip to San Diego and the Holiday Bowl will cost between $44-50 zops. Heck, this is less than the $55 for the Trojans and the Irish, which is a better buy than the most of the bowl games.
The Obvious - Both USC and ASU put a great deal of emphasis on their offenses, especially the passing games directed by Carson Palmer and Andrew Walter, respectively.
The Not So Obvious - Despite the fact that USC and ASU rank two and three in the Pac-10 in passing, their passing offenses are quite different according to Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter. Koetter says, "Coach Chow has sort of taken the USC offense - I guess you'd call it West Coast - where they throw the ball underneath a lot, and we throw it vertically a lot. It's just a different way to do it."
The Obvious - Speaking of Norm Chow, if it's November and new coaching openings around the country, it must be the Norm-to-somewhere rumors that USC fans now fear.
The Not So Obvious - ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski gives Chow an endorsement for Michigan State by saying in his column, "Chow should have been a head coach by now. It isn't by accident that his quarterbacks (Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer) win games and awards. Memo to Utah AD Chris McBride: Chow and his family still have a home in Provo. Salt Lake City is just down the road." While Chow insists he is not interested in being a head coach, he did not deny being interviewed after last season.
The Obvious - USC quarterback Carson Palmer has been as hot a quarterback as there is in the country, and his rise in the Heisman ballots will certainly reflect his uplifting performances.
The Not So Obvious - ASU coach Koetter says that USC fans will find that his quarterback, Andrew Walter (197-of-342, 57%, 25 TDs, and 10 intercetions), will remind Trojan fans of Carson Palmer. His kid is big, strong, and has a cannon of an arm to go deep. Walter had a falling out with Koetter earlier in his career and his Sun Devil future was in doubt, but Walter nows seems to be on the same page as his coach.
The Obvious - The problem the ASU offense will encounter with their 34.4 scoring average is that the USC defense is allowing only 19.6 points per game, which is second in the Pac-10. Add to that a lack of a running game and ASU looks like a Washington clone.
The Not So Obvious - ASU and USC rank second and third in passing offense, but USC ranks first in pass defense, which is the apple of the eye of Pete Carroll and may very well be the difference in the game.
The Obvious - Saturday's 4:00 p.m. game is being televised nationally by TBS with that fabled trio of Ron Thulin, Charles Davis, and Craig Sager, and Trojan fans hope the production quality has improved from the last games.
The Not So Obvious - Besides USC's own radio network, the game is being broadcast nationally on Westwood One with Tony Roberts handling the play-by-play. Say what? The same Tony Roberts who is the voice of the Notre Dame Fighing Irish? Yep. The Irish are off this week and perhaps Roberts is doing a little pre-game scouting for the South Benders. Roberts is leaving former Irish stars Allan Pinkett and Paul Hornung at home this trip and bringing along "Mr. South" Fran Curci for color commentary.
The Obvious - After one punting disaster after another, one of Pete Carroll's missions during the last recruiting season was to bring in a punter to stop the bleeding, even if he was a freshman.
The Not So Obvious - After shaking off some non-conference jitters, USC freshman punter Tom Malone has lived up to all the pre-season hype by currently leading the Pac-10 in punting with a 38.0 average. Malone's private coach is former 1997 Sun Devil All-Pac-10 punter Marcus Williams.
The Obvious - ASU place kicker Mike Barth is one of the Pac-10's best having made 41 of 41 PATs and 17of 26 field goals. In addition, Barth has been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco after the season.
The Not So Obvious - The Trojan kickers rank last in the conference in field goal perecentage (58%), PATs (33/3 , and punt return average (too cruel to mention). USC also ranks last in Pac-10 kick-off return yardage (16.0).
The Obvious - The team that plays for the national championship or wins Pac-10 usually has championship Special Teams.
The Not So Obvious - For those Trojan fans who think that this Trojan team is better than Ohio State, Buckeye field goal kicker Mike Nugent has hit on all 21 field goal attempts. The difference between the Buckeyes and the Trojans' kicking game might be the difference, say, between a Fiesta and a Holiday Bowl.
The Obvious - One of the great Trojan coaching jobs has been the development of the USC secondary that lost the likes of corners Kevin Arbet and Ronald Nunn, yet the Trojans' pass defense, as mentioned, still is ranked first in the Pac-10.
The Not So Obvious - Once again, the Trojan secondary will be tested this week and the challenger is Arizona State's outstanding junior receiver Shaun McDonald, who averages 17.0 yards per reception to rank first in the conference. No scoring slacker either, McDonald ranks third in the Pac-10 in scoring touchdowns (12).
The Obvious - The Trojan offensive line, now without the services of the intense and improving junior guard Lenny Vandermade, will be challenged by the nation's premier rushing artist in All-Pac-10 defensive end Terrell Suggs, who has decked the quarterback 19 times this season and leads the country.
The Not So Obvious - Keep an eye on Trojan tackle Jacob Rogers as he battles Suggs. The interesting aspect of this conflict is that Suggs, who has gained 15-20 pounds, is a converted tailback and Rogers is a converted tight end.
The Obvious - The loss of Vandermade put even more pressure on versatile lineman Eric Torres, who plays every position along the offensive line. Torres will start in place of the injuried Vandermade.
The Not So Obvious - With an Arizona State team that brings the Pac-10's leading defensive sackers (44), Trojan fans should keep an eye out for uniform No. 57 which belongs to Trojan freshman guard Fred Matua, who may have to dismiss his redshirt status to help his depleted offensive line finish the season strong. Also watch for the return of senior Derek Graf.
The Obvious - The Trojans home attendance average figures to take a leap in the final three weeks of the season with Saturday's Homecoming crowd, which figures to be in the 65,000 range and, of course, the Notre Dame Coliseum 92,000 sellout. Since it's Homecoming, it might interest you to know that when USC had its glorious 1972 team, the USC attendance average was 65,675.
The Not So Obvious - In seven home games this season, ASU has averaged on 45,837 fans per game. The last time it was lower was in 1969 (44,370) . ASU attendance currently ranks 42nd in the nation, and three times this season Arizona home homes have drawn more fans than Arizona State on the same day. That hasn't happened since 1995.
The Obvious - There are some many Trojan fans that want this one season to provide proof that the Trojans are back. As mentioned above, Anthony Davis would like to think it that way.
The Not So Obvious - Coach Pete Carroll seems to have it in reality as he told the Daily News, "I'm not here to try and win one time. I want consistency. I want to show it over a long time. Show that we've developed a way, a style, a personna about your program that maintains and is consistant...One season or good year, that's not it." Well put, coach, and so much for the Nebraska rumors.
The Obvious and Not So Obvious
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