PASADENA, Calif. -- Make fun of the Big Ten all you want. Get in line with the rest of the hack comics (Take my league, please!) You'll read plenty of that yang over the next few days with the Rusted Belt now 1-5 in the postseason.
Go ahead and drop the f-bomb (fraud) regarding Penn State in the first half of the Rose Bowl. The Spread HD looked like Dead Analog falling behind 31-7.
Make your jokes about Nittany Lions' AD Tim Curley finding an out clause in JoePa's new three-year deal.
You are as misdirected as USC was on the night of September 25.
Sure, USC won another Rose Bowl, beat the poo out of a Penn State team a lot of us thought had more emotionally invested in this game than the Trojans. Great, fantastic, but USC should be kicking itself, not another Rose rag doll.
They know it. You know it. This USC team should be on a plane right now for South Florida to play in the BCS title game, except that it stumbled, bumbled and fumbled its season away three-plus months ago in Corvallis. The 27-21 Oregon State victory introduced the world to Jacquizz Rodgers and "doomed" the Trojans to another Rose Bowl.
"People were thinking we were upset, we have to go to the Rose Bowl ... " All-American safety Taylor Mays said. "We heard a lot of that."
That's what the Grandaddy has become in some respects to USC, a letdown. The Trojans will never say that. USC still had the same warm and fuzzies it has had in previous trips to Pasadena. The 38-24 win marked the first time a team has won three consecutive Rose Bowls. It has played in the past three Rose Bowls, beating its unfortunate Big Ten victims by a combined 60 points.
But let's not get as carried away as Pete Carroll did on the award stand. The network honk set him up with a question about fellow one-loss teams Florida and Oklahoma playing for a real championship a week from tonight.
"With all due respect, those are two great programs," Carroll blurted. "(But) I don't think anybody can beat the Trojans this year."
As outrageous as that sounds, Carroll had himself covered. The year is only one day old and no one in their right mind is going to have No. 5 USC in the championship conversation tomorrow, much less a week from now.
"I don't think anybody can beat us," Carroll said later when asked to clarify his statement. "I think we can beat anybody we play."
Except that you didn't beat everybody you played, Pete. Be honest, your Trojans underachieved this season. In those three Rose Bowls, the BCS title game was being played elsewhere each time. USC lost the 2006 Rose Bowl -- and national championship -- to Texas. Things haven't been the same in Troy since.
Pete Carroll is now 34-5 over the past three seasons. Four of the losses have come in jaw-dropping fashion to unranked teams. It's clear that Carroll's most difficult task is not getting to the Rose Bowl, it is keeping his players motivated to get beyond it.
"Obviously, they're a great team, but they're subject to be human like anyone else and have a letdown," Penn State's Deon Butler said. "I'm sure they'll think about that (Oregon State loss) for a long time."
|How can Carroll's Trojans win or share seven straight Pac-10 titles but lose to Oregon State twice in three years? (US Presswire)|
Let's break this thing down, shall we? Florida lost by one at home to an Ole Miss team that is playing in the Cotton Bowl, then steamrolled the opposition. Oklahoma lost a top-five matchup with Texas, then steamrolled the opposition. USC lost to a bunch of Beavers who got 65 points hung on them at home with the Rose Bowl berth on the line. Oregon State then proceeded to scrape together a field goal and shut out Pittsburgh 3-0 in the Sun Bowl.
By itself, the Oregon State loss would be unfortunate. As part of a trend, it is troubling. How does a modern dynasty win at least a share of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles (and the accompanying seven BCS bowl games), win Heismans and lose to Oregon State twice in three years? It's not just that. It lost at home to Stanford in 2007. It failed to get into double digits against a 6-5 UCLA with a title game berth hanging in the balance in 2006.
"It's tough," USC linebacker Brian Cushing said of the Oregon State game. "We screwed up that night."
Cushing was part of a defense that was one of the best of all-time this season, giving up only 7.8 points per game and 11 touchdowns total before Thursday. For some reason, the offense lagged behind. There wasn't a go-to receiver. The offensive line struggled. Sanchez never really broke out. The backfield-by-committee thing was OK, not great.
Then something clicked against Penn State. Sanchez threw for a career-high 413 yards and added four touchdowns through the air. Receiver Damian Williams went for 162 yards on 10 catches.
If both players stay for their fourth seasons in college, we could be talking Matt Leinart-to-Dwayne Jarrett type stuff. If not, they'll think about what could have been in September.
"You can't dwell on the past," Williams said. "Everybody makes mistakes. We happened to make one that was really crucial."
The problem is that USC competes against itself as much as it does the opposition. Thursday's game was almost a microcosm of the season. The Trojans are so good that someone needs to nudge them now and then to keep them from nodding off. Penn State was blasted back to Happy Valley in the first half. The most resistance from the Nittany Lions camp came after hordes of Trojans began dancing on the sidelines as the margin increased. The Penn State crowd booed.
"I was going to get the penalty called on us just so we could get a penalty called on us for having too much fun," Carroll said.
The game was over at halftime, for USC. Mentally and physically. It had done enough. Even a small portion of its fans around the rim of the Rose Bowl left, content that another game was in hand. Those Penn Staters, filling almost half of the stadium, stayed in it the whole way. Their team gave them hope, cutting the margin to two touchdowns with 4½ minutes left.
"That's the hardest I've ever seen a team play, especially when they were down," Mays said. "I think we kind of thought it was over."
That seems to have happened too often lately at Troy.