Counting the ways

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING, there's pretty much no reason WSU and USC should bother playing this Saturday. For trend-addicted numbers crunchers, the mountain of empirical data in the Trojans' favor is that big. Of course, the same was also true in 1986 when <b>Ed Blount</b> worked some crimson magic. And in 1997 when <b>Ryan Leaf</b> did it. And again in 2000 with <b>Matt Kegel</b> at the helm.

So while the tide of history would dictate a USC victory in this Saturday's nationally televised showdown between the No. 17 Cougars (4-1) and No. 18 Trojans (3-1), you just never know what can happen on any given Saturday --- especially given the Cougars' relative physical health and Jason Gesser's rediscovered dynamic self.

But to give you a sense of how extraordinary a Cougar victory would be, even though the cats are only a very slight underdog, consider the following:

USC owns a 50-7-4 lifetime advantage in the series; has outscored the Cougars by 959 points; has dropped but three of the last 30 meetings; and hasn't lost in Pullman since Blount handed Ted Tollner's undefeated squad a 34-14 pasting in '86.

Adding to the statistical pile on is the fact WSU is 6-17 against ranked teams since 1995. Worse, when WSU has also been ranked in those games, the Cougars are a woeful 1-5.

You can almost hear Greg Roberts, the loquacious national prognosticator, vowing to eat Bear Bryant's houndstooth hat if the Trojans don't win this one.

But then again, let's not forget that Gesser is 14-3 in his last 17 starts, the Cougars are 9-1 in their last ten home games, and have won two of the last four battles with Southern Cal. 

Mike Price expects a donnybrook and thinks the Cougars' could have the edge if the proverbial 12th man shows up -- and he's not talking about the kind that sunk the Huskies in Ann Arbor. The game looks to be a sellout and anticipation on campus is growing, Price said. If students and alumni get fired up and turn Martin Stadium into mini-Kingdome, the tide could be turned, he's convinced.

TROJANS TO WATCH: QB Carson Palmer, who last week completed 23-of-41 passes for 231 yards and one interception in a 22-0 drubbing of Oregon State, finally appears to be living up to the hype. Besides downing the Beavers, he's orchestrated impressive wins over Auburn and Colorado. The ground crew is talented, but off to a slow start in '02, averaging under three yards a run. The receiving corps is deep, allowing Palmer to spread the wealth.

On defense, the Trojans play with abandon, led by All-American safety Troy Polamalu. DL Shaun Cody is a comer. A familiar face at linebacker is former Cougar Champ Simmons. Coach Price on Tuesday said his staff has yet to find a weakness in USC's D.

Game Time: 4 pm, Saturday, Martin Stadium

TV: Aired nationally by TBS

Line: USC by 3½

NOTABLE NOTES:

Gesser completed a career-high 28 passes at Cal and tied Leaf by connecting on a scoring pass in his 17th-straight game. With his 431 aerial yards against the Bears, Gesser now ranks fourth in both career passing and total offense at WSU and just 190 yards behind Drew Bledsoe for the No. 3 spot in total offense and 301 passing behind Leaf for No. 2 on the all-time list behind Jack Thompson. Speaking of Thompson, Gesser is now tied with the Throwin' Samoan for No. 2 on WSU's all-time TD pass list with 53 – and just four behind Leaf.

Hat's off to walk-on junior receiver Scott Lunde who this week earned a scholarship. He deserved it. The pride of Hudson Bay High in Vancouver, Wash., wasn't even listed on the Cougar depth chart at the start of fall camp, but is now WSU's second-leading receiver with 21 receptions for 239 yards. In addition, senior middle linebacker Mawuli Davis, who similarly has climbed from the depths to center stage, this week was awarded with a full scholarship. He had nine tackles last week at Cal.

USC's secondary coach is a former standout Cougar defensive back Greg Burns from the early 1990s. He's the third one-time Cougar DB to line up against the pumas this season as an assistant coach. Last week it was Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory and the week before it was Montana State secondary coach John Rushing.

You had to laugh last week in Berkeley when Cougar offensive lineman Sam Lightbody emerged from a pile up with the "d" missing from the name on the back of his jersey. Alas, at 6-9 and 300 pounds, Lightbody is hardly "Lightboy," but you have to had it to those Golden Bears for having a sense of humor.


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