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Sunday, October 15, 2006
Updated: October 18, 6:16 PM ET
USC winning in different ways

ESPN.com

BACK TO BASICS

LOS ANGELES -- College football has returned to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That would be college football, as opposed to the glamorous brand of football that USC played over the last three seasons. In that football, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White took turns delivering SportsCenter highlights.

In this game, college football, young players take two steps forward, and one step back, and occasionally, vice-versa. For the third consecutive week, USC has a won a Pac-10 game by a one-play margin. The Trojans won at Washington State by six. They beat Washington by six. Saturday night, they beat Arizona State, 28-21.

The alarm clock goes off. Sonny & Cher sing, "I Got You, Babe." And USC wins another game.

"It's Groundhog Day," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "That's what it feels like. If it's Groundhog Day and you always wind up winning, that's OK with me."

John David Booty
Reuben Canales/WireImage.com
This USC offense isn't likely to match previous incarnations.

In that Harold Ramis movie, Bill Murray plays a depressed cynic who relives the holiday over and over until he learns how to be a mensch. In the Trojans version, USC will keep trying to make a big play until it figures out how to do it.

"We're not the same team," Carroll said. "We're very, very young [five senior starters]. We're very new. We're playing really good football. We're doing a lot of good stuff to win these games. It's really hard to win. How many teams have won all their games? It's hard to do that. Everybody can worry if they want to worry, but I'm thrilled that we're 6-0 and we feel OK about ourselves."

The USC offense produced only three plays of 20 yards or more. The Trojans' defense forced only one turnover, which gives it 10 in six games. In Carroll's first five seasons, the Trojans' turnover margin ranged between plus-16 and plus-21. At the halfway point this season, USC is plus-three.

"I'm really disappointed in one area, that we're not getting turnovers," he said. "Everything else, I can handle. We're not getting the ball away. It's not that we're not trying. When that happens, we're going to be a really hard team to beat. We'll be a really good team. Until then, we just win."

Carroll believes that the first quarter and a half, when USC jumped to a 21-0 lead, is a harbinger of the good things to come. He is, after all, a congenital optimist. But USC gave up a touchdown late in the first half, and Arizona State converted a matched set of turnovers from USC quarterback John David Booty (a fumble and an interception) into the two touchdowns it needed to tie the game.

"I kept thinking when it was 21-all," Carroll said, "it was going to be really hard to beat them by a lot."

He got the laughs that the line deserved. Perhaps Carroll isn't too concerned because the bye week ahead will give him and his staff two weeks in which to teach. His long list of injured players may grow shorter. It may be impossible for this Trojan team to play with the candlepower that Leinart, Bush and White used to light this Coliseum during their careers.

Given that that realization has arrived as USC has extended its Coliseum winning streak to 30 games and its Pac-10 streak to 27 games, Carroll will be able to live with it.

DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Saturday night's game against Florida International may turn out to be one of the most memorable in Miami Hurricanes'history, but for all the wrong reasons.

Thirteen players were ejected in the third quarter of the Hurricanes' 35-0 victory following a brawl that involved virtually every player on both teams and caused dozens of police to swarm the field to separate the combatants.

The worst behavior came from two Miami players -- safety Anthony Reddick swung his helmet and crowned an FIU player, while safety Brandon Meriweather took a running start before driving his cleats into the back of a Golden Panther.

Reddick, Meriweather and linebacker James Bryant were not ejected, but were suspended on Sunday by coach Larry Coker for this Saturday's game against Duke in Durham, N.C.

ACC officials were still looking into the incident Sunday and could suspend more Miami players.

"It was disgraceful and very disappointing," Coker said. "That will certainly be dealt with."

Saturday night's fight was the third major incident involving Miami in its last seven games.

Several Hurricanes were involved in a post-Peach Bowl brawl last December with LSU players that left Miami guard Andrew Bain and receiver Khalil Jones unconscious.

On Sept. 16, Miami players stomped on Louisville's cardinal logo at midfield before the game, nearly causing a melee.

Asked if he were concerned about his control over Miami's players, Coker responded, "I do have a strong grip on this program. Don't ever doubt that."

NO EXCUSES

The video clips are stunning. Helmets are being swung at the heads of other players. Players are trying to stomp their cleats into the legs of rival players. The Miami-Florida International brawl was complete chaos. Some Hurricanes fans might try to chalk it up to "FIU started it" or "There are no rules in a brawl." But the thought that keeps coming back to my mind is that this kind of thing just doesn't seem to happen to a Texas or a Michigan.

Miami -- no matter how much Larry Coker and the UM brass have tried to scrub away the old Canes' roughneck image -- still keeps finding itself in the muck. If anyone wanted to say the Canes are still the thugs they were in the old days of Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson, they now have five disturbing minutes of YouTube proof.

To read the rest of Feldman's take on the state of Miami, click here.

UNDER THE RADAR

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M's improving defense and bruising running game have gotten a lot of credit for the No. 23 Aggies' surprising 6-1 start, but don't overlook the production of quarterback Stephen McGee.

In his first season as the Aggies' starter, McGee has completed 64.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and only one interception.

Before Saturday's game against previously unbeaten Missouri, Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel was getting a lot of attention for his performance during his team's 6-0 start. But McGee stole the show in the Aggies' 25-19 victory at Kyle Field, completing 19 of 23 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown.

"It's hard not to feel awfully good about No. 7 out there with the way he managed everything and played," Aggies coach Dennis Franchione said. "He handled the ball on the options and handled the checks well."

McGee was at his best in the third quarter, completing his first nine pass attempts as the Aggies went ahead 25-19 on Mike Goodson's 2-yard touchdown run.

McGee completed 16 of his first 17 attempts and didn't throw an incompletion until the Aggies appeared to run the wrong route with 1:15 to play in the third quarter.

"People can say whatever they want and doubt us," McGee said. "This group of guys is determined to fight together and play to the very end. We weren't perfect today, but we grinded it out together and made some stops when we needed to and picked up third downs when we needed to."

CATCH-22

LOS ANGELES -- Arizona State had fought back from a 21-0 deficit to tie USC. The Sun Devils trailed, 28-21. They had the ball on their own 23, fourth-and-22, with about 1:30 to play and two timeouts.

Dirk Koetter
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Dirk Koetter's decision left some scratching their heads.

Head coach Dirk Koetter chose to punt the ball away.

"Well, it was fourth-and-30," Koetter said, "and I felt like we were better off trying to advance the ball 50 yards and come up with a turnover. The odds of getting a fourth-and-30 play, those are tough."

That Koetter overshot the needed distance by eight yards is irrelevant. It's a lot harder to score on defense than on offense. The odds of converting fourth-and-22 are tough. The odds of a) converting fourth-and-22, b) going downfield to score a tying touchdown, and c) winning in overtime, all on the same drive, may be high, but they are lower than the odds of scoring the tying touchdown if you don't have the ball.

Because of the new clock rules, Koetter had to take one timeout before USC ran a play, with 1:19 remaining. That left him with one. Trojan tailback Chauncey Washington dived into the line twice and, finally, quarterback John David Booty took a knee. The Trojans survived to live another undefeated week.

Koetter's strategy mined a vein of football wisdom known only to him.

"I was shocked," USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. "I didn't understand that. As long as we don't turn the ball over, the game was over. I was obviously very excited when he did it. I wasn't planning on it happening but I thought it was great."

HE'S NO JOHNNY ROTTEN

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Sid Vicious 8, Virginia Tech 3.

The walk-on kicker with the last name many of his coaches and teammates can't pronounce outscored the Hokies on Thursday night during Boston College's 22-3 win before a sold-out crowd at Alumni Stadium.

Steve Aponavicius' two field goals (36 and 20 yards) and two PATs gave the Eagles a much-needed special teams lift and gave the sophomore kicker a storybook ending to his initial 15 minutes (and counting) of fame.

Steve Aponavicius
Jim Rogash/WireImage.com
Steve Aponavicius: cult-hero in Chestnut Hill.

From the ESPN cameras following his every pregame move to his nationally televised postgame interview live, to his Lambeau-like leap into an "MVP" chanting student section that he once called home, Aponavicius withstood the hyped frenzy that surrounded his football debut.

"He's really a confident kid," BC coach Tom O'Brien said. "The kid isn't fazed by anything. He had more fun out there than anybody."

But it's time to move on.

Looming on the horizon for BC is a slightly less-welcoming environment at Florida State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

"I got here through hard work and I'm just going to keep working hard at practice," Aponavicius, in a gray pinstripe suit that looked every bit as out of place as some thought he did on a football field, said after the game. "A week ago there was nobody talking to me or looking at me and I was still kicking as many balls as I could each day, so I'm just going to keep doing that and hope it keeps working.

"I just wanted to make kicks for my team today, and luckily I was able to do that. But we've got a lot of games left and I'm going to have to equal this performance again. I'm very excited about next week now. It's a huge game for us."

BC (5-1) played its most-complete game of the season in beating the Hokies (3-2), but the Eagles now hit the road, where they are 1-1 on the season.

"I'm not going to accept that as being the end-all game," O'Brien said. "We're only halfway through the year and we've got a lot to improve. But it's a win on a Thursday night against a program that's owned Thursday night. All it really means is we've got to get better and go to Florida State next week.

"But I'm going to call him Sid Vicious the rest of my life. It works."

FIVE SATURDAY OBSERVATIONS
IVAN MAISEL
Larry Coker
Coker
1. Larry Coker sets a standard for decency among Division I-A head coaches. You could search from now until the first I-A playoff and not find a more civil man. He has not been able to teach that kind of respect for others to his team. Miami's thuggishness in its 35-0 victory over Florida International reflects poorly on the Hurricane players, on Coker and the university. If Coker does need to finish fast to save his job, Saturday was not a good day.

Texas A&M 2. In a day when spreading the field is the "in" thing, Texas A&M posted its biggest victory in coach Dennis Franchione's four seasons, 25-19 over No. 19, previously unbeaten Missouri, with good ol' physical football. The Aggies controlled the ball for 41:30 and rushed for 180 yards, more than double what the Tigers had been allowing (72.7). How big is that win? It raised Fran's record with Texas A&M against ranked teams to 2-11.

Pete Carroll
Carroll
3. In case you had forgotten, the new clock rules are still an abomination. USC coach Pete Carroll stood in the middle of his locker room Saturday night staring at the statistics of the Trojans' 28-21 victory over Arizona State and said, "We had 61 plays and they had 54. There's not that many plays in the college game. It's different. It's more like an NFL game. I like it the way it was. I didn't vote for this rule. I voted against it and tried fighting against it." Carroll has a self-interest -- more plays are always better when you have more talent -- but he is consistent as a traditionalist. He doesn't like instant replay, either.

Miami (OH) 4. You know it's not your season when ... you're a hard-luck 0-6 (one overtime loss, two others by three points or fewer), you've got a game at Buffalo, a team that should serve you your first taste of victory, on the second Saturday in October ... you get snowed out. If luck evens out over the long term, then the Miami RedHawks are an 85-man winning lottery ticket waiting to be cashed.

Stanford 5. And you know it's not your season when you set a historical record for offensive ineptitude -- at Homecoming. Stanford gained only 52 total yards in a 20-7 loss to Arizona. The Cardinal gave up six sacks, two more than the number of first downs it made. Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards injured his foot on the first series of the game, which explains some of it. You know it's bad when your only score, a 72-yard interception return by Wopamo Osaisai, outgains your offense. Stanford is 0-7 with No. 3 USC and No. 10 California, ahead.

COLLEGE GAMEDAY RECAP
Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard run through Saturday's action.
THE UNLUCKY NUMBER
BRAD EDWARDS, ESPN Research
Not so long ago, it was good to be No. 2. From November of 2003 through January of 2006, five different teams combined for a 30-1 record while holding the No. 2 ranking in the AP poll. (The lone loss was by Oklahoma against No. 1 USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl.)

This year, it has been an entirely different story. On Saturday, Florida became the fourth different team in the last six weeks to lose while ranked No. 2. Texas (vs. Ohio State), Notre Dame (vs. Michigan) and Auburn (vs. Arkansas) were the previous victims. Perhaps USC has been playing all these close games to avoid this cursed spot in the poll. Well, maybe not, but it's a thought.

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE FINAL CREW
RECE DAVIS
Miami The brawl between Miami and Florida International was an embarrassment to college football and deserves firm action from both the ACC and Sun Belt offices. With Duke next on the schedule for Miami, giving one-game suspensions would be the easy thing to do. Making several of those players sit out the following game against Georgia Tech would be the right thing to do.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Ramel Meekins, Rutgers
12 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 sacks vs Navy
Bobby Reid & Adarius Bowman, Oklahoma State
Set school and Big 12 offensive records vs Kansas
LOU HOLTZ
USC USC looks like a team teetering on the edge. What would scare me to death as a coach is that they have no rhythm on offense, they don't have anyone making big plays, and they're playing not to lose. They are not going to go undefeated, because they have teams left on the schedule that are much better than the ones they've barely been beating.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Pat White, West Virginia
247 rush yards, 4 TD rushing vs Syracuse
Kellen Lewis & James Hardy, Indiana
Combined for 3 TD passes vs Iowa
MARK MAY
Adrian Peterson
Peterson
This should be it for Adrian Peterson. He has nothing left to prove in collegiate football. When I played in the NFL, I played against Walter Payton, and Adrian Peterson is the closest thing I've seen to Walter Payton since then. He runs hard, he runs strong, and he runs at a different level than everyone else. The NFL is where he should play his next game.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Quentin Groves, Auburn
3 sacks, forced fumble vs Florida
Colt McCoy, Texas
6 TD passes vs Baylor
LOOKING BACK: FLORIDA-AUBURN
SATURDAY BLOODY SATURDAY
Auburn's win over Florida made the SEC body count complete. On every given Saturday, somebody goes home beaten in the Bloody South, writes Pat Forde. Story
HIGHLIGHTS: GATORS-TIGERS
Auburn knocked Florida from the ranks of the unbeaten.
LOOKING BACK: MISSOURI-TEXAS A&M
THE WINNING FORMULA
Dennis Franchione's been searching for the right recipe at Texas A&M. Look like he found it in wrecking ball RB Jovorskie Lane and an improved defense, writes Mark Schlabach. Story
HIGHLIGHTS: TIGERS-AGGIES
Texas A&M pinned the first loss of the season on Missouri.
VANDY CLOSES THE BOOK
BRAD EDWARDS, ESPN Research
Vanderbilt When Vanderbilt kicked a field goal in the final seconds to beat No. 16 Georgia, it was more than just a rare SEC road win for the Commodores. It was the end of the longest losing streak against ranked teams in the history of the AP poll, which has been around since 1936. Entering Saturday, Vanderbilt had lost 54 straight games to AP-ranked teams -- a drought that began in 1992 -- and had not beaten a ranked team on the road since knocking off Alabama in Mobile on Oct. 7, 1950. To top it all off, it was Vanderbilt's first win in school history on the campus of a ranked opponent.
HIGHLIGHTS: SUN DEVILS-TROJANS
It wasn't easy, but USC stayed unbeaten, getting past Arizona St.