Friday, December 30, 2005

USC Sideline Place to Be Seen in L.A.

With all the celebrities crowding the USC sideline these days, it's a wonder there's room for the players and coaches. A sampling of some of the coolest celebrity USC football fans: Henry Winkler (defined cool as "The Fonz"), Andre 3000, Kirsten Dunst, Will Ferrell, Flea, George Lucas, Snoop Dogg, and Wilmer Valderrama ("Fez" in That '70s Show).

Texas has some pretty cool fans of its own, especially alumnus Matthew McConaughey and the peerless Lance Armstrong.

Says Outkast's Andre 3000, "If you talk to anybody, tell them Andre 3000 wants tickets, and I'll pay for them."

Maybe he should talk to George Wendt (Norm!) who apparently has four tickets to the Rose Bowl.

An Open Field . . .

is another unique characteristic, along with extremely intense and ultra-competitive, of a Pete Carroll-conducted football practice. I did read earlier this week that Texas beat reporters are banned from USC football practices, but only because USC beat reporters are banned from Texas practices.

Open practices teach accountability and concentration while setting a daily standard for a team that must first survive the demands of an entertainment-capital home before surviving the schedule.

[. . .]

If you can endure Ken Norton's screaming at you in front of your girlfriend, then miss a tackle in front of your mom, then spend 20 minutes on the same field answering questions about it … how tough can Texas be?

Future Vince Young Quote

Will be overheard in the Texas locker-room during halftime of the 2006 Rose Bowl:

"I can't beat it," Young said. "It's the Reggie show."

[see second section of linked article]

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sarkiffian Better Than Chow?

This article by's Pat Forde outlines the success Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian have had this year replacing Norm Chow as offensive coordinators. I touched on this earlier this month and I'm still not convinced the USC offense is better off, or even no worse off, without Chow. Forde discusses the major differences between the Chow offense and the "Sarkiffian" offense. Emphasizing the running game and shifting the passing game slightly more vertical have been positive developments. However, it's the other difference that concerns me:

"Norm had an uncanny ability to call plays," Sarkisian said. "We may not have always known what was coming, but it worked. Especially in big games, he was willing to make calls nobody else would make.

"I think we're a little bit more on the structured side. We know what calls are coming. We know by the play sheet what to call, depending on the situation. The quarterback knows what's being called by the specific situation."

Doesn't that mean once an opposing defensive coordinator figures out your system, he may have a pretty good idea what's coming next? It's not the day-to-day coaching in practice that I'm not convinced has been replaced; it's the play-calling. Don't get me wrong, I have no complaints about the Kiffin-Sarkisian combo this year. I just think it's too early to pass judgment on Norm Chow's replace-ability.

Very Good News

Pete Carroll finalized a contract extension yesterday. Yes, I understand that an NFL team could easily buy out Carroll's contract if he ever decides he wants to return to the pros. However, Carroll has never given any indication other than that he is happy at USC and wants to stay as long as he can maintain the level of excellence he has brought to the program. The contract extension confirms that. Carroll will never be hotter as a coach than he is right now; if he's not making the move to the NFL now, when will he?

"It's a logical thing for people to think," he said of his speculated interest in a new Los Angeles pro team. "But those same people also say that the NFL is the end. And it's not. Matt Leinart showed that this year."
Another quote I liked from the above linked Bill Plaschke article in today's Los Angeles Times:
"After five years here, I hope we have shown there is a way to have great discipline and intensity and still enjoy every minute of it," Carroll said. "It's hard for people to understand, but that's what we do."

I really like the timing of the announcement for three reasons. It could give a timely extra punch to USC’s recruiting efforts as crunch time approaches. Currently, USC’s recruiting class is high on quality but low on quantity. However, USC seems to be in the running for the majority of the remaining uncommitted top-100 recruits. Second, there are likely to be a number of openings in the NFL after the end of the regular season this weekend. The announcement should preempt speculation about Carroll taking any of those jobs. Finally, finalizing the contract now demonstrates USC’s confidence in the long-term future of the program regardless of the outcome of the Rose Bowl.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

It's in the Bag

I hear the Texas football team arrives in Los Angeles today. They will enjoy a week of festivities leading up to the Rose Bowl game against USC on January 4. Texas definitely deserves to be rewarded for winning the Big 12 championship and finishing the season undefeated and ranked #2, so I hope the Longhorns’ southern California vacation is not ruined by delusional hopes of actually winning the game. The outcome of the Rose Bowl, you see, is preordained. As proof, I offer:

  • USC has never lost a bowl game when ranked No. 1.
  • USC has never lost to Texas in 4 meetings. The teams’ most recent encounter was nearly 40 years ago in the Trojans’ 1967 national championship campaign.
  • USC has never lost in a bowl game against a Big 12 opponent.
  • USC has never lost a BCS game, having currently won three in a row.

(Source: USC Rose Bowl press release)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Pete Carroll Plays Dumb

I don't know how he pulls it off, but Carroll prepares his players for ultimate high-pressure big-game situations like nobody else in the college game. People like to compare the Trojans to the worst NFL teams, but the comparison to professional clubs might be fair when it comes to the players' mental approach to games. Check this out.

The Weakest Link?

I don't necessarily disagree with Matthew Zemek's analysis of the receiving corps as potentially the Trojans' weakest link in the Rose Bowl, as opposed to the defense or the special teams, but I don't see the receivers as an area of particular concern going into the big game. In fact, I can't think of any aspect of the team that really worries me at this point, which I'd say is quite a luxurious position in which to be. Perhaps that attitude will change over the next two weeks if my anxiety level rises as game-time approaches.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Round Robin Rocks

I want to go on record as being very excited about the Pac-10's new conference scheduling format starting next year. The Pac-10 almost immediately approved a full round robin format after the 12-game football season was made permanent by the NCAA. For some reason, I don't think the average non-Pac-10 fan is aware of the change, as demonstrated in this letter: "I say the Big XII, SEC, and now the ACC are determining conference champions the right way. On the field. The PAC 10, and Big 10 +1 need to take notice." To credit Pete Fiutak, in his response to the letter he states he supports the Pac-10 plan. It’s not the Pac-10 that needs to take notice, but rather the 12-team mega-conferences and especially the Big 10.

In the Pac-10, there will never again be conference co-champions that did not play each other, such as Big-10 champs Iowa and Ohio State in 2002, necessitating the existence of convoluted rules to determine the conference's Rose Bowl/BCS representative. Also, the Pac-10 will have no need for a conference championship game. Every team will play nine conference games and there is no risk of crowning a team with a lesser conference record the conference champion based on one very good or bad game, á la Big 12 champs Kansas State in 2003 or ACC champs Florida State this year.

The system is good for USC because it allows the Trojans to continue their annual contest with Notre Dame, play another big-name school in non-conference play (Nebraska in 2006 and 2007, Ohio State in 2008 and 2009), and play one other relatively easier non-conference game, in addition to their nine game conference schedule.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Nearly Impossible to Describe

Apparently, Reggie Bush is making sportswriters work harder than usual to draft descriptions of his performances. Here's a collection of quotes describing Bush's play.

Friday, December 09, 2005

World Cup Draw Analysis

The sum of the four teams' world rankings for each group (based on current FIFA world rankings with the seeded team in parentheses):

Group A (Germany): 16+37+23+21=97
Group B (England): 9+30+14+51=104
Group C (Argentina): 4+41+3+47= 95
Group D (Mexico): 7+62+10+19=98
Group E (Italy): 12+50+2+8=72
Group F (Brazil): 1+49+20+15=85
Group G (France): 5+56+36+29=126
Group H (Spain): 6+28+40+32=106

The average of the sums is about 98. Each group's sum is within 15% of the average except Group G, which is about 29% greater than the average, and Group E, which is about 26% below the average. That's bad for the US, which is in Group E.

The seeded team is the highest ranked team in its group except for Argentina in Group C (the Netherlands is ranked one spot better at 3) and Italy in Group E. Interestingly, both the Czech Republic and the US are currently ranked higher than Italy in Group E; again, bad for the US, although I can't imagine Italy is too pleased with its draw. Group E looks like next year's "Group of Death".

Germany's group (A) does not have a single team ranked in the top 10, but three of the four teams are in the top 25. Argentina and the Netherlands (Group C) should have no problem advancing from their group. Three of the four teams in Mexico's and Brazil's groups (D and F) are in the top 20. It looks like France and Spain have by far the easiest roads to the Round of 16 followed by a slightly more difficult road for England.

I can't say this looks good for the US. Advancing to the Round of 16 in the 2006 World Cup will require finishing ahead of either the Czech Republic or Italy in group play - this would be a major accomplishment. Winning Group E is extremely unlikely. I was pissed when the US was not seeded and getting drawn into a group with another top 10 team besides the seeded team is particularly unlucky.

The 2006 World Cup Draw . . .

is in progress. I'm tracking it live on ESPN Soccernet.

The seeded teams have all been placed in groups and they're now drawing teams from Pool 2 . . .

The drawing of teams from Pools 2 and 3 is complete. Serbia & Montenegro cannot be placed in Groups A, B, E, G, or H. Group C looks particularly nasty.

The remaining 7 teams just breathed a sigh of relief - S & M was placed in Group C.

Ouch! We're in a tough group.

The drawing is complete.

Group A: Germany, Ecuador, Poland, Costa Rica
Group B: England, Paraguay, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago
Group C: Argentina, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Serbia & Montenegro.
Group D: Mexico, Angola, Portugal, Iran
Group E: Italy, Ghana, Czech Republic, United States
Group F: Brazil, Australia, Croatia, Japan
Group G: France, Togo, Switzerland, South Korea
Group H: Spain, Tunisia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Three Reasons . . .

This seams to be a popular format for analyzing the USC-Texas Rose Bowl match-up:

Rose Bowl Debating

For some fun Rose Bowl debate, check out the Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation. Unsurprisingly, there's a strong pro-Texas bias in the comments, which makes it all the more entertaining. The administrators of the blog have shown admirable balance in their postings, especially since December 4. This, of course, was the day it suddenly became a reality that their beloved Longhorns would actually have to back up Texas fans' smack talk on the field. Don't look for any USC victory predictions here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dutch and USA Unseeded for World Cup Draw

This pisses me off. The U.S. national team is currently ranked eighth in the world and won their CONCACAF qualifying group ahead of Mexico. Friday's draw will be critical.

Mack Brown Thinks USC Is the Best

Mack, how do you motivate your team if you think your opponent is better?

ESPN Rose Bowl Poll

ESPN SportsNation's Rose Bowl poll results, with my answers in bold.

Some points of clarification:

Question 2) Who will be the game's biggest star?
Reggie Bush could have a huge game – he has in all of USC's big games this year. However, Bush had a relatively quiet game in the 2005 Orange Bowl. I think Texas will game-plan for Bush, and if the Trojans' versatile and balanced offense takes what the defense gives them, someone else will have a huge game. It could be Dwayne Jarrett; it could be Steve Smith or Dominique Byrd, like last year; it could be LenDale White. Obviously, Matt Leinart will play a huge role in whatever happens.

Question 3) What was USC's best win of the season?
If “best” means best overall performance on offense and defense in a big game, then it was the UCLA game. If “best” means most exciting, historically significant win, then it was the Notre Dame game.

The most noteworthy poll results relate to questions 10 and 11, “Which coach would you want on the recruiting trail?” and “Which coach would you want preparing a team for a national title game?” Pete Carroll holds commanding leads over Mack Brown on those two questions.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bush Highlights

Here's a link to a fun video of Reggie Bush's college highlights (hat tip: The Sports Pulse).

Here's The New York Times article with a link to Bush's bootleg high school highlights video.

This is USC's Bush Heisman candidacy video.

A friend accused me last weekend of having a man-crush on Bush. I didn't really have anything to say about that.

Rose Bowl Hype

As a USC fan, it's going to be hard to take the massive Rose Bowl hype that is coming too seriously. I guess I'm jaded from last year, when the latest so-called "Game of the Century" turned into a 55-19 rout. I'm not saying I expect another blowout; on the contrary, I expect Texas to be a very challenging opponent. Hopefully, the players' experience from last year in dealing with the buildup to a game of this magnitude will serve as an advantage in game preparation.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Eight-Step Program for Beating the Trojans

According to Seth Fast Glass of the UCLA rag Daily Bruin, UCLA must complete the following eight steps to beat the Trojans tomorrow:

STEP 1: Win the coin toss; score the first touchdown;

STEP 2: Throw the ball;

STEP 3: Take the lead into halftime;

STEP 4: Get Matt Leinart's jersey dirty;

STEP 5: Make a play on special teams;

STEP 6: Win the turnover margin;

STEP 7: Don't let USC make a big defensive play late; and

STEP 8: Get lucky

Is that all? Piece o' cake, right?

Given that the odds of UCLA completing Step 1 are exactly 1 to 1 and rapidly decline from there, it looks like the Bruins are going to be disappointed. Halftime leads didn't help Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, or Fresno State, nor did big plays on special teams by Arizona State, Notre Dame, Fresno State, or UCLA last year. Matt Leinart has the country's best offensive line keeping his jersey clean. USC has the best turnover margin in the country. Making big defensive plays late has practically become a USC trademark (excepting the Notre Dame game). Step 8 speaks for itself.

Some Perspective

With the level of excellence at which USC football is now operating, it's hard to remember how things were only five years ago. This article, by Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register, is a good reminder of how far the program has come and how much expectations have risen since Pete Carroll was hired in 2001.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Replacing Chow no problem for USC

Does anyone else think it's still too early to be making this statement, as Michael Ventre does in this MSNBC article? I say wait until next year, after Matt Leinart is gone and there's some serious offensive personnel turnover, before passing verdict on how replaceable Norm Chow is.