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College Football Notes: A Look at USC

   by Al McMordie - 10/03/2005

This was an interesting week for me, as I won my highest rated football game of the year to date (Arizona State over USC), but also was rooting for the Trojans to win the game straight up because I bet on them (at +150) to win the 2005 National Championship. It was a sweat, but it worked out perfectly as USC came back from a 21-3 deficit to win by 10 as a 15-point favorite. Anyway, it's my belief that the 2003 to 2005 USC Trojans are the greatest "team" in college football history. There. Somebody had to say it. However, before I get e-mails, let me present both sides of the story. This season isn't even over yet, so it's far too early to compare, say, the 2005 USC team to 1924 Notre Dame, 1938 Tennessee, 1945 Army, or Nebraska of 1972, '83 or '95. After all, it was in the middle of the 1983 football season that several scribes began writing that the '83 Huskers were the greatest team of all time. And they were one of the most dominant teams ever, until getting upset 31-30 in the Orange Bowl to upstart Miami (as a 17-point favorite).

However, I bring this up to make a point about handicapping. A good handicapper always looks at both sides of a team's chance of covering the spread. It's important not to rush into any game you like and think, "This team will easily cover this bad number, let's hurry up and play it." Patience, introspection and careful analysis are key components of understanding line moves and winning wagers. And even though I think USC is a history-making team, I still thought Arizona State was about as good a wager as one would have all year.

With that said, let's make a case for USC as the best team of 2005 and maybe one of the best of all time. Certainly the talent level on this team is second to none. They have a veteran starting quarterback who has been through it all -- running an offense, close games, championship games, you name it. He has talent and experience. The Trojans have terrific wide receivers for him, and a balanced offense behind a pair of stud RBs in LenDale White and Reggie Bush. Anyone who watched USC's comeback win Saturday at Arizona State could see this, as USC went to the ground game in the second half and wore down the Sun Devil defense, even though they trailed 21-3 at the half.

Defensively, USC is allowing 18.8 points and 97 yards rushing, just 2.9 yards per carry. This is enough as the offense is striking for 54 points and 618 yards per game! They've just played two Top 20 teams on the road in Oregon and Arizona State, and trailed early by double digits. However, when the smoke cleared, the Trojans had 278 and 373 RUSHING yards in those games. This is a team that doesn't panic, even when it's behind early, and starts throwing every down. In addition, head coach Pete Carroll and his staff have been adept at making important halftime adjustments. They've withstood every test the last two seasons and passed with straight As.

With that said, let's take a look at some possible weaknesses. USC lost its leaders on the defensive line from last season, in addition to its offensive coordinator Norm Chow, probably the best offensive coordinator in college football (now with the NFL's Titans). The defense allowed 13 points and 199 passing yards per game last season, but it is allowing 18.8 points and 262 passing yards in 2004. They can be passed on and aren't as good as a year ago (though good enough thus far, especially with the offense getting 54 per game!)

In addition, the schedule still has some challenges: At Notre Dame, at California, and even home games against good teams like UCLA and Fresno. At present, three of those teams are in the Top 20. USC will be a big favorite in all those games, but remember the Trojans didn't roll over everybody last season. They trailed 10-7 at the half to Virginia Tech, and 28-17 late to Stanford (before winning 31-28 as a 22-point favorite). USC also beat UCLA by 5 points as a 22-point fave and needed a goal line stand at the end to beat Cal, 23-17. Cal actually dominated the Trojans with an edge in total yards 424-205 and USC's vaunted ground game got just 41 rushing yards that game (just 1.6 yards per carry).
So, no, the Trojans are not invincible -- it has only appeared that way of late -- or at least since they trashed Oklahoma 55-19 in the national title game. Cal's power running game (4 of 5 offensive linemen back from the 2004 meeting) and Notre Dame's imaginative coach Charlie Weis will test USC's line and secondary. And when the Trojans have topped them and everyone else the rest of the way, THEN we'll talk about USC being one of the best teams ever. By the way, the 1945 Army team outscored its opponents by a 45-5 average, with Glenn Davis leading the nation in rushing AVERAGING 11.3 yards per carry, while Tennessee team in 1938 didn't allow a single point all season. Even this year's USC team cant top that one! Good luck as always...Al McMordie.

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