All the Trojan hype and talk that the 11-point spread isn't large enough flies in the face of one inalienable fact: The No. 6-ranked Cougars are the defending Pac-10 champions, they are 7-1 and have no conference losses this season, and they've defeated USC in each of the last two meetings between the teams -- one of which featured a second-year freshman behind center by the name of Matt Kegel.
Oh, and did I mention that the Cougar D is as stout as they come?
Yep. Ol' Wazzu is the team carrying the big mo into this Saturday's regionally televised showdown (4 pm kickoff, ABC) in the City of Angels.
If you want to talk about tradition, consider this: Erik Coleman, Jason David and D.D. Acholonu and Tai Tupai, senior standouts who put serious fight and fury in that steeled crimson defense, have NEVER tasted anything but victory against USC.
But somehow, it seems, the folks in and around Heritage Hall have forgotten the loss to Cal just a month ago. And some national pundits are now penning in USC for the national championship game in New Orleans.
Heck, the way some folks are talking, you'd think we were traveling back to 1974 and a date with Anthony Davis' vaunted Trojans. News alert: The team with the best record in the Pac-10 over the last three seasons wears crimson, not burnt orange -- or whatever it is that USC dons. I must admit, though, that Dennis Dodd of CBS Sportsline seems to be giving the Cougars more credit than most: He has dubbed this week's matchup "the biggest Pac-10 game in 15 years." I'd have to research that a bit, but my guess is he says that because no two Pac-10 teams have played each other in that time frame when both were ranked so high -- No. 3 and No. 6.
Bill Doba was on the radio this morning. He opined that if the Cougar O doesn't commit turnovers and establishes just a wee bit of a running game, and the Cougar D doesn't give up the big play, the game should come down to the performance of the special teams. He also noted that the Cougar offensive line is basically healthy again for the first time since August.
FAMILIAR FACES: USC's secondary coach is former Cougar standout DB Greg Burns. And two Trojan starters on D were once Cougars: Linebacker Melvin Simmons, who played in Pullman for two seasons before the Pike incident, and DB Ron Nunn who signed with WSU out of high school but ended up going the JC route.
LAST SEASON: The Cougars and Trojans also faced off last season in the Mother of All Pac-10 Games. USC battled back from a 24-14 deficit midway through the fourth quarter to take a 27-24 lead, but Drew Dunning hit a 35-yard field goal with 1:50 to tie the game and then hit another 35-yarder in OT to give the Cougars the wild 30-27 win. USC's defense was ranked No. 1 in the nation in total D entering the game, but the Cougars racked up 516 yards of offense, with Jason Gesser throwing for 315.
ODE TO THE D-LINE: In all my years of Cougar watching, I've always said there's one defensive line that reigns supreme -- the 1983 line up of Keith Millard, Eric Williams, Milford Hodge, Pat Lynch and young Erik Howard. The 1997 DL crew of Leon Bender, Dorian Boose, Shane Doyle, Gary Holmes, Rob Meier and Jonathan Nance came close. Today, though, I have to say there's a new bunch of trench warriors I'd rank above them all: This year's Cougar uglies of Jeremey Williams, Tai Tupai, Josh Shavies, Isaac Brown and D.D. Acholonu. For me, the speed of the ends coupled with the stout work of the immovables in the middle makes this group truly one-of-a-kind.
WORD OUT OF PULLMAN over the weekend was that officials from the Fiesta and Holiday bowls were on hand to see the Cougars face the Beavers. I'd have to guess they came away scratching their heads. To borrow a line from Jim Walden after the Cougars beat Oregon 10-3 in a lackluster 1982 game, "I think we set the game of football back about two decades."
SEATTLE PLANNING ALREADY: Those conscientious folks in the King County Cougar Club have been hard at work for months prepping for this year's Apple Cup in Seattle. The Cougar rally on Friday night (Nov. 21) from 7 pm-midnight promises to be a great one, with entertainment on two stages, great food and libation, and Cougar gear to stock up on for the holidays. It'll be held on the Seattle waterfront at Pier 66 in the Bell Harbor Conference Center. To get your tickets, call 206-448-1335 or send an email to email@example.com.
I MENTIONED THIS IN my game story Saturday night, but because I love the kid I;m going to say it again to make sure you didn't miss it. If redshirt freshman linebacker Scott Davis looked natural heading down the field with the pigskin after scooping it up on that muffed OSU punt attempt, rest assured he was more than comfortable hauling the swine. During a star-studded three-year varsity career at Kamiakin High in Kennewick he rushed for 4,457 yards and scored 61 TDs.
GOOD LUCK CHARM FROM INDIA:One of the most pleasant surprises last weekend in Pullman was running into Todd Barton (a.k.a. LarryCoug). He was one of the very first posters on the CF.C message board when we launched the site oh-so-long-ago. Larry, a software developer, moved to India three years ago but still makes it to one home game each year plus bowl games. Is that devotion, or what? And get this -- Larry's got some serious mojo. The home game he attended last years was vs. USC. The guy's 2-0. Any chance we can get him to L.A. this weekend?