Oregon State Edition – 10/25/09

The halfway point in the season has come and gone, and the home stretch will be here before you know it (USC finishes its season with three home games in a row as 6 of the first 9 are road games – a bizarre schedule, but also an impressive feat if we enter that stretch 8-1). It was an exciting day Saturday around the country, and I will start nationally today, then bring it back to the University of Southern California, God’s favorite team.

– That Iowa ending over Michigan State was just surreal. If I were a Spartan and I lost on a 4th down TD pass with no time left on the clock I would be positively depressed for a decade or more. Iowa is a 9-3 team in any other conference, but they could very well run the table (though I am not betting on it).

– Michigan/Ohio State may be a game this year … Auburn/Alabama likely will not be, but you never know. Nobody looks anything close to unbeatable.

– I have never seen a season with such a lack of a clear #1 best team in the nation. Florida, Alabama, and Texas are nothing like they were last year – I mean, not even close (and don’t forget, Florida lost a game at home last year to Ole Miss, Alabama ended the season with two straight losses including a blowout loss to Utah in a bowl game, and Texas almost lost to Ohio State in their bowl game, and did lose to Texas Tech earlier in the year. So, all three of these teams were much better last year, yet had losses. It is hard to believe any of these teams will stay undefeated, but at least two of them potentially could. I am not betting on any of them doing it. But they are not the only teams to be struggling this year. USC’s defense is not surprisingly less impressive than last year’s; Oklahoma (riddled with the QB injury issue) is not even ranked; and across the Big-10 and Big-12 there has been a talent deterioration. I am not sure what my point is, other than that there is no 2004 USC this year or 2001 Miami, and nothing between now and early December will surprise me (with my team, or anyone else’s).

– It was creepy to hear Bosworth at UCLA say after the Cal game that they “just need to get away from the Rose Bowl and go out to Tucson to figure things out.” Who needs a rest from being at HOME? The Bruins do, who have as much support in Pasadena as the local pro soccer team …

– Heard WORD for WORD on the UCLA pre-game show as I drove to the Coliseum Saturday: “The strength to our team is our defense. We have just got to learn how to tackle.” Wayne Cook and Matt Stevens also chimed in with this one about Rick Neuheisel: “UCLA fans just can’t expect him to go 11-1”. Good to know, guys. I know a lot of my UCLA friends are just really disappointed that the undefeated season they dreamed for the last two years is now gone. The question for UCLA right now is not, “Will Norm Chow be back?”, but rather, “Do we want him back?”.

– The coaches in the SEC have to be uniformly shocked at where Kiffin’s Tennessee Volunteers are so early in his time there. Alabama is lucky as can be to have beaten them (by two points), and that game was in Tuscaloosa (Tennessee had 100 yards more than Alabama and it took two blocked goals for Bama to get the two point/no TD win). The Gators struggled against the Vols too (though also got the win). Georgia was not so fortunate as Tennessee whooped them something fierce. This is a team that may bring the SEC back to where it was a few years ago … Right now, their top teams are good, not great (Florida and Alabama), and their other teams are average, if not poor. If teams like Tennessee can re-surface, that could change things.

– Is there any chance that Nebraska’s eight lost turnovers can be blamed on anything other than coaching? Eight? I believe that Nebraska is still being judged 13 years later for their decision to play Lawrence Phillips in the 1996 championship game after kicking his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach and smashing her head into a mailbox. Phillips is not a danger these days, for after bombing in the NFL he was arrested and sits behind bars after trying to run some teenage kids over in his car (whom he had been playing pick-up football with). Yes, these things have a way of sticking, don’t they?

– My goal with the BCS is NOT for all the dominoes to line up right so that other teams lose and USC doesn’t, and USC becomes a hugely obvious choice for the annual BS championship game. My goal is obviously for USC to win all their games, but I prefer it be accompanied by total and utter chaos. There needs to be many teams victimized and outraged by the system. Pray for pain. Out of a rock bottom, comes healing.

On to my beloved Trojans:

– This was one of the worse defensive efforts I have seen from USC in a long time. Oregon State converted third down conversions on us at will. Our cornerbacks were routinely beaten on passing routes. And missed tackles seemed to be taking place all over the field. Perhaps it is good that it happened in this game and not next week, because I have some optimism that we can improve where we need to improve before the challenge of next week.

– Barkley had an odd game. He absolutely made some very bad throws, but on the other hand, he threw some remarkable balls. He does very well when he steps into the pocket under pressure and makes a throw past the coverage … He has tremendous patience and poise in the pocket, and even showed a bit of scrambling ability in this game. I need to re-watch the poorly thrown balls, but one thing is clear: this offense is going to be reliant on Matt and our downfield passing to a much larger degree than I thought.

– As for the running game which re-entered the Coliseum late in the third quarter: I do think it may be interesting to really get Allen Bradford more consistently involved, and diversify the ways that we use Joe McKnight. With Stefan out, and Gable not a part of the action, Allen and Joe can become the closest thing to a Lendale/Reggie two-man combo that we have had since 2005. This Bradford is something else.

– I have watched a lot of USC games the last few years where the offense struggled, but the defense made it impossible for us to lose. I can not think of a game since Matt and Reggie left where the defense struggled, but the offense brought about the victory – that is, until last night!

– Look, two weeks in a row we were up about 20 points in the fourth quarter and two weeks in a row the other team came back in (though this week we never gave Oregon State the ball back at least to try for their third touchdown of the quarter). It is so uncharacteristic of Carroll-led teams, I am shocked. And yet, we didn’t give up the lead in either game, and it seems to me that there should be some solace in that for Trojans. If you lived through the unfathomable amount of USC leads that led to a loss from 1998-2000, you would know why these “comebacks” scare us a bit, but also why holding on for the win, leaves us elated.

– Two punt returns for a touchdown in one season? Huh?  And unlike 1997, we can even score touchdowns when it is NOT on a punt or kickoff return too!  =)

– The Oregon Ducks are good – very good.  Those who have not seen them since the Boise State debacle have not seen them.  Yes, USC, lost to Washington without our starting quarterback and our starting All-American Safety.  But going up to the northwest has been tough for us for several years now (Oregon State loss 2006, Oregon loss 2007, Oregon State loss 2008, Washington loss 2009).  In each of those other years we went to the northwest twice (once for an Oregon game, and once for a Washington game, regardless of which school it may be).  And in each of those years, we won one, and lost one.  Let’s hope that this year maintains that precedent …  We can’t take back the Washington loss, but we can avoid losing two up there.  I believe we can get it done.

Final closing thought: this is a year to stay humble in the world of forecasting and predictions.  I thought USC would be a dominant running team this year, and they have been far more of a passing team.  Chat board know-nothings mocked the selection of Barkley over Corp, yet Corp is now third or fourth string, and Barkley is playing at another level.  The Sark and Kiffin haters are now eating humble pie as Sark gets the Washington ship on a much improved course (including their big upset win over USC), and Kiffin has Tennessee playing the best they have played in a while.  The media crowned Florida before the season started, and they look to me like a two-loss team waiting to happen.  The bottom line is, you just never know.  And that is what makes college football, the absolute greatest sport, of all time!