Nightmare at Troy

THREE THINGS WERE crystal clear in Southern Cal's 43-16 victory over Washington State today: The Trojans are one helluva team, Cougar quarterback <b>Matt Kegel</b> is tough as hell, and Pac-10 officiating has gone to hell.

As a wise man once said, games are won or lost in the trenches. No. 3 ranked Southern Cal used that formula to perfection against No.6 WSU, pounding Kegel for most of four quarters and keeping their own signal-caller, Matt Leinart, relatively safe.

Kegel, barely among the living with two bum shoulders coming into the day, was knocked out of action temporarily in the second quarter. This time it was his knee, but a little spit and a little mud during intermission was enough to get the tough-as-nails Montana native back onto the field in the second half.

But that same wise man also said (or was it his cousin Vinny?) piss-poor officiating can influence a game as much--or more--as poor blocking, wayward punt snaps, and missed tackles.

How bad was it? So bad that it would've come as no surprise to see a line judge whistling along to that annoying Trojan band or a referee exhange a knowing wink with Tommy Trojan.

Further review will certainly indicate more infractions on the part of this bumbling crew of Pac-10 goodfellas, but it was three obvious miscalls that will have conference commissioner Tom Hansen's inbox full of angry Cougar emails.

Bad calls from Pac-10 officials are coming at an epidemic rate this season, but today's miscues raised the bar on incompetence.

Twice Leinart fumbled after being hit by Cougar defenders and twice Hansen's henchmen inexpicably botched the call. The first was ruled an incomplete forward pass. The second, a fumble caused by blitzing Pat Bennett, was ruled no fumble because Leinart allegedly was down when the ball popped out. Both of these loose balls were recovered by WSU. The first errant call led to a Trojan field goal, and the second deprived the Cougars a prime scoring chance because they recovered the ball inside the USC 10 yard line.

The other call that had the Cougar Nation uttering a collective "What the hell?!" took place in the third quarter with the Cougs down by just 12 and holding the ball on the Troy 18. A Trojan defensive lineman was obviously in the neutral zone when WSU center Mike Shelford snapped the ball. Further, the USC defender may have even made contact with Shelford as he was snapping the ball. The snap was fumbled by the Cougs, but no worries, it was an obvious dead ball foul against the defense, right? Not with this group of striped Sopranos. Trojans' ball and, as it would turn out, game over.

Did this inept officiating change the outcome of today's contest? Hard to say. But there is no doubt it influenced it in a way that belies the final score.

Sour grapes? For sure. But lest you think I'm blind to the talent that is USC, or the missed tackles, or the head-scratching play of the Cougar offensive line, I assure you, I'm not. (Nor am I blind to their miscall on the Cougs' final score.)

And while I'm always heartbroken by a Cougar loss, I'm disappointed over this one for all the wrong reasons.

We--Trojans and Cougars, alike--wanted to watch the best the Pac-10 had to offer--two of the top 10 teams in the nation-- go head-to-head today. We didn't need the guys in stripes getting in the way.

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