2009 “Weekend before the season starts” edition – 8/30/09

Welcome to the beginning of the 2009 musings from the biggest college football lover of all time!  In past years, I have waited until the first weekend of the season to kick off the musings, but this year I am too anxious to hold back.  The season begins Thursday night with the Oregon/Boise State game, and we come into Labor Day weekend with a slew of great games.   I assume fans of college football everywhere are “jonesing” to get this thing going, but when you are the biuggest college football lover of all time, it is just plain difficult to sleep.

This season is of particular interest to Trojan fans.  Seven Pac-10 championships in a row, including five Rose Bowl appearances in the last seven years (four of them won in blowouts), and two Orange Bowl appearances in the last seven years (both of them blowout wins), have plenty of us wondering if the greatest dynasty that has ever existed in the history of this sport (feel free to look it up) can actually continue.  Many teams have had dynamic runs, and many teams have even had runs that were good for over seven years.  But, no team has actually gone seven straight years without a break, winning their conference each year, winning a BCS bowl six of the seven years, winning two national championships in a row, and being in the conversation every single year as best team in the land (and doing all of this through four different quarterback eras).  I believe that at some point (and I certainly thought it would have happened by now), USC and Coach Carroll will have one of those “rebuilding years”, and then pick things up the following year.  But to my surpriseand delight, that just has not happened yet.  Will this be that year?

On one hand, Trojans have plenty to be optimistic about.  The Head Coach is still there.  The recruiting work has been among the best in the country year after year after year.  Ten out of eleven starters return on offense – an offense that tore Penn State, Oregon, Virginia, and Notre Dame to pieces last year.  The team has no less than five running backs that would start for every single team in the country (I can not believe what I just said, as it is totally and literally true).  The team does have the best head coach in all of football, and perhaps the best college football has ever seen.  The best secondary in college football will suit up for the cardinal and gold this year.  The offensive line is stacked.  A lot of good is going on.

But, there is another side to the story.  The team will be starting a TRUE freshman at quarterback this year.  Four of last year’s linebackers are playing on Sundays this year (yes, we only play three at a time, yet four are in the NFL).  And both our Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator are now in the city where the sun don’t shine (Seattle – UofW).   Injuries are stacking up as well.  Our #2 recevier, Ronald Johnson, is now out for 6-8 weeks after a broken clavicle suffered yesterday.  The best center in college football, Kris O’Dowd, has reinjured the knee he hurt his freshman year.  Standout corner, Shareece Wright, is fighting an injury and grade issues.  And most notably, we probably have the toughest schedule in all of college football AGAIN!!!  We play Ohio State on the road the second week of the season, and this year we do not have a bye week after the first game to heal up.  We play an improved Notre Dame squad on the road.  And then there is conference play, with the top two teams outside of USC both being on the road (Cal and Oregon).  There is a lot to overcome here.

My own take is that another conference championship is very obtainable for the men of troy this year, but an appearance in the big sham called the BCS championship game (which we would have won last year) is another story.  My guess is that even one undefeated team is going to be very unlikely this year, but Florida certainly has the best shot of doing it.  They do not play ANYONE, and their only moderately difficult game is at a neutral site.  Plus, they are insanely good, and have the best player in the country on their team (Tim Tebow).  Outside of maybe Florida, I just do not see 12-0’s anywhere, whether it be USC, Oklahoma, or Texas.

The issue of Sark and Holt leaving do not concern me.  Carroll has lost assistant coach after assistant coach his entire career, and has become the literal Bill Walsh of college football, putting Norm Chow, DeWayne Walker, Lane Kiffin, Tim Davis, Ed Orgeron, Kennedy Pola, Nick Holt, Steve Sarkisian, and many others in either the NFL, or other college coaching opportunities.  And yet, each year, we come back stronger than ever.  Bobby Bowden has never recovered from losing his great coaches of the 1990’s.  LSU is feeling it now.  But not Carroll.  He has proven the critics wrong repeatedly.

But the other concerns are legitimate.  I think our secondary will be even better this year, and Taylor Mays has the best chance of being “the best since Ronnie Lott” I can remember.  The fact that Sanchez did not stay (who surely should have), and Mays did stay (who absolutely could have gone), still shocks me.  I believe that if last year’s USC defense was not the very best in the history of college football, I do not know who was.  We lost a lot of guys there.  Did we just re-load?  We shall see.  I can tell you that Rocky Seto and Ken Norton are going to do a fine job picking up the coaching slack.  And, I can tell you this – we did not lose our defensive coordinator.  His name is Pete Carroll.  He is still there.  However, a true freshman at QB when you have four painfully tough games on the road is an issue.  Perhaps Barkley is going to prove to be all he has been hyped up to be.  Carson Palmer came into USC as the most-hyped quarterback I can ever remember, and it took his fifth year at USC for that talent to really come through (though admittedly, he played every other year without any running game or O-line to speak of whatsoever).  Matt strikes me as a rare kid, a young man who, like Tebow, has his faith and values straight.  He has the arm of a champion.  He is an over-achiever through and through.  But, he is barely 18.  Leinart, Sanchez, and Booty all took three years to get rolling.  The QB issue is the question mark.

I am getting a lot of questions about my take on the QB decision.   I can only say this: Matt Barkley is not reading the chat boards, and therefore not subject to the hostility and ignorance that drives them.  The same haters who claimed that Sanchez was the better pick than Booty in 2007 (before Booty finished the year and the Rose Bowl championship in flawless QB form) are ridiculing the coach’s decision to give the nod to Barkley over Aaron Corp.  I am sure it is entirely possible that Barkley will lose the job, though I doubt it.  All I know is this: whether it be injury, general preparation, or some intangible we are unaware of, this coaching staff has earned the right to pick their own QB.  I support it.  I welcome it.  I look forward to it.  And we shall see.  Let’s put on the hats.

Around the country:

– Nick Saban signed a three year addition to his deal with Alabama yesterday. I agree with an Alabama blogger I read this morning who said that Saban can sign a nine-month deal, or a ninety-year deal, he will leave when he wants to leave.  He always has.  In this case, though, I do not believe Saban will stay because he has developed integrity or a commitment to young people’s lives; I think he will stay because he has a great gig there, and there is no reason to leave.   Alabama is the deserved beneficiary of good timing here.  He has already learned the lesson about how much the NFL sucks, and there is no team in the college ranks that could or would pay him what he is getting now, and still produce a championship-caliber environment each year.  I think he has found his home.  I don’t respect him any more than I did last year, but I still know a good coach when I see one.

– Did I mention that Tim Tebow is a man among boys?

– Bobby Bowden lost 14 games in the off-season.  Seriously!

– I can’t say much about San Jose State other than that I am glad our season opener is a 12:30 pm game.  It gives me time to make my anniversary dinner with my wife that night!  She gets furious with me in the years that she has to do the anniversary dinner all alone.   =)  (love you Jo).

– I do not look ahead, so I will not get into Ohio State until next Sunday.  But that September weekend is going to be something to behold.  Michigan and Notre Dame.  UCLA and Tennessee.  Fun stuff. 

– The BCS is going to prove itself to be a sham again this year.  It is going to make a mockery of competitive sports.  It is going to be the subject of all kinds of ridicule.  And nothing will get done, again.  I do not know if the best teams will make it to the game this year or not, but I do know this: Those saying that Texas/Oklahoma in October will pick one side of the BCS championship game this year must be referring to the LOSER of that game, because that is now the tradition.  Those saying that if you lose to Oregon State on the road your BCS championship hopes die must mean that if you can lose to Ole Miss at home, they stay alive, because that is what happened to Florida.  It is a shame.  It is a crock.  And my musings site will not let it go.  Consider it an obsession on my end, okay?

I love this sport.  I love the autumn weather.  I love the memories of summer and anticipation of the holidays. I love the young people leaving it all on the field every single Saturday.  I love the hits.  I love the tailgates.  I love the banter.  I love the lunches with the coach every Monday.  I love the rivalries.  I love College GameDay.  I love it all.  College Football.  Here we go, 2009!  Put on your hats.