Twenty reasons Texas/USC wins
Updated: January 4, 2006, 6:22 PM ET
Who's going to win the Rose Bowl? Ivan Maisel offers 20 reasons USC will fight on to its third straight national championship, while Pat Forde counters with 20 reasons Texas will hook its first national title since 1970.
Ivan -- Why USC will win
20. School songs and mascots. "Fight On" has it all over "The Eyes of Texas," which, when you get right down to it, is some stalker lyrics placed over a sample of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." I'll take Traveler over Bevo as well. Speed is everything in football, right?
19. You could debate long into the night over which team has the better offensive line. USC has one All-American (guard Deuce Lutui), three All-Pac-10 players (Lutui, center Ryan Kalil, tackle Sam Baker) and 141 cumulative starts along the front. The Trojans allowed only 15 sacks. The point? Texas has one All-American (tackle Jonathan Scott), 150 cumulative starts and allowed only 14 sacks, and its line is considered a strength. Works both ways.
18. The other guys: tailback LenDale White, wide receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, tight end Dominique Byrd. All four would be superstars if they didn't exist in the shadow of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. White rushed for 1,178 yards and 21 touchdowns and has scored more touchdowns than any Trojan in history. Jarrett, Smith and Byrd have combined for 163 catches for 2,355 yards and 20 touchdowns. Speaking of which, Byrd hasn't scored since that one-handed how'd-he-do-it grab of a 33-yard touchdown against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. He's due.
17. Hangers-On: Texas has the Sexiest Man Alive in Matthew McConaughey, USC has the Funniest Man Alive in Will Ferrell. At first, that doesn't look like a Trojan plus, but bear with me here. When McConaughey loses the title bestowed upon him by People Magazine, Ferrell will still be Will Ferrell. Chicks dig the sense of humor, right? Isn't that what we hear over and over? Speaking of women, USC has Song Girls. Texas doesn't. Game, set and match, Trojans.
16. The Trojans' 34-game winning streak is rooted in the players' ability to focus and their refusal to look beyond the next game, or even the next snap. What others might consider as goals -- a Heisman, a third consecutive national championship, a 34-game winning streak -- are ignored. Carroll constantly preaches to his players that they give everything they have on every play. It sounds simple. The best ideas usually are.
Pat -- Why Texas will win
20. The Longhorns pass the look test. This is critical for an underdog leading up to a major sporting event. Are they scared? Is there any doubt in their eyes? Anything that says, "We're not ready for this"? The answers with these Longhorns, at least from their demeanor and attitude in the days leading up to the game: no fear, no doubt, all ready. The Longhorns might not be the better team, but they aren't entering the Rose Bowl believing that. Vince Young passes with flying burnt-orange colors. We knew USC passed the look test. We found out this week that Texas does, too.
19. No weak links. Texas is excellent in all three phases of the game. The Horns rank in the top five in 10 of the 14 major team statistical categories kept by the NCAA. By contrast, the Trojans rank in the top five in just four of those categories. USC gave up 42 points to Fresno State and 31 to Notre Dame. Texas hasn't given up more than 30 in a game all year. Texas has scored seven touchdowns via defense or special teams this year. USC has scored just four. USC is No. 115 nationally in net punting. Texas returner Aaron Ross ranks No. 8 nationally in punt returns. The trick, of course, is making USC punt. The Trojans do figure to kick off a few times. And the Horns are third in the nation in kickoff returns. All of which means
18. Texas will win the field-position battle. Thirty of USC's touchdown drives this season were 80 yards or longer, and 45 went 70 yards or more. Texas had only 19 80-plus-yard drives and 20 of 70 or more. Thanks to defense and special teams, the Horns play on a shorter field than their opponents.
17. The hype is getting heavy around USC. The Texas players all dismissed talk about feeling disrespected. Don't believe it. They know that ESPN has been running a series of "dream games" matching USC against the best teams in modern college football history. They know that USC is a fat touchdown-plus favorite. They know that some people are calling the USC offense the greatest ever, even though Texas has scored more points this season. If there was a need for a few more ounces of motivational fuel for this game, Texas has it.
16. The unbeatable Gene Chizik. You've heard all about USC's 34-game winning streak, but the Texas co-defensive coordinator hasn't lost in nearly as long. Chizik came to Austin this year from Auburn, where he'd won 15 straight. His personal streak now stands at 27, and his defense is awfully good.
Ivan -- Why USC will win
15. Pete Carroll sometimes sounds like he has stayed up in one late-night dorm session too many, but listen to one of his riffs, and you understand the method in his madness. "We only played 12 games this year. It's not like we play 100 or 162 like in baseball. We have to get up every single time we go, no matter who we're playing or what the situation or who we're going against. If you think you can only get up for a game two or three times or four or five times a year, you're copping out. That ain't the way it is. You can get up every single time, every game for years, if you approach it that way." That's why he has won 34 in a row.
14. USC's success on offense has everything to do with its versatility. Defenses react to personnel changes. The Trojans don't have to make those changes, Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. "They give you empty [no running backs in the backfield] sets [with] two backs and one tight end, when you think it's a pro set. They give you the illusion that it will be smashmouth and yet it will be five wides."
13. The number of games over .500 that USC is in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans are 21-8 in the Granddaddy of Them All, and nine of their 11 national championships have been sealed with a season-ending victory in Pasadena, Calif. Not that USC is the home team or anything like that. Of course, it's a neutral field.
12. Speaking of which, USC has been Here before. Not "Here" as in the Rose Bowl, but "Here" as in playing for the national championship. Yes, Texas is a veteran team and won the Rose Bowl just last season. But the experience of the Orange Bowl last season, and the Rose Bowl the year before, must count for something. USC won't let its butterflies flutter away with its game plan.
11. NFL scouts haven't fallen in love with Matt Leinart's arm, but they're nuts if they don't swoon over his win-loss record. Leinart is 37-1, second-best in NCAA history. Leinart goes into the final game of his Trojan career with 10,328 passing yards, 98 touchdown passes and only 22 interceptions.
Pat -- Why Texas will win
15. Is Reggie ready? When ESPN.com colleague Len Pasquarelli reported that Bush and his family spent time recently interviewing prospective agents for a seemingly inevitable jump to the NFL, warning bells went off. Is Bush focused on the Rose Bowl, or on pay day? He'll probably play just fine Wednesday night, but you have to wonder: couldn't that agent business wait until, say, Jan. 5?
14. Size matters. Texas averages 314 pounds across the offensive line. USC averages 275 pounds across the defensive front. That 40-pound cushion will help with the pushin' in the trenches -- and truth be told, many of the Trojans look noticeably smaller than their listed measurements. Quickness and athleticism can negate size advantages, of course, but the Texas O-line isn't just a bunch of fat guys. They can move for their size and rank among the best units in America -- hence the Horns' steamroller rushing numbers (273.8 yards per game, second in the nation).
13. Vince matters even more. USC hasn't seen a player that big, that fast, that determined and that charismatic -- especially one who has the ball in his hands on every play. The one thing I believe will take the Trojans by surprise is his strength and how hard he is to bring down. If Young stays within the hugely successful structure of the Texas offense, he'll have a big night and the Horns will roll up points and yards.
12. TE David Thomas -- remember the name and the position. The Trojans have had trouble containing good tight ends in their two closest games of the year. Fresno State's Devyn McDonald had a career-high five catches for 64 yards against USC, and Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano caught four balls for 86 yards. Thomas, the All-Big 12 tight end, led Texas in receptions with 40 and is a guy Young looks for in pressure situations. USC had better be looking for him, too.
11. Lance Armstrong. The world's greatest cyclist is an Austin resident and a Longhorns fan. His Tour de France winning streak goes back to last century, making USC's winning streak look brief by comparison. And if it comes down to a sideline celebrity fight, I'm taking Lance over Will Farrell or Snoop.
Ivan -- Why USC will win
10. USC kicker Mario Danelo was 10-of-10 on field goals inside of 40 yards, and 0-for-1 outside. That means two things. One, Pete Carroll isn't scared of going for it on fourth-and-short (see No. 4), and two, it's remarkable how the Trojans manage to do the fundamentals well. How many national championships might Bobby Bowden have won if he had a guy who could kick accurately, even with limited range? Danelo also went 78-for-81 on extra points, setting an NCAA record for PATs.
9. USC strong safety Darnell Bing might be only a junior, but he has started 35 games. Senior free safety Scott Ware, a juco transfer, has started 15. Both are ballhawks, and are fierce hitters. They have carried an extra load this season with the shaky state of the Trojan corners. If Texas has success against the USC defense, it will be on the edges, not down the middle.
8. Turnovers are at the top of Pete Carroll's list of Things to Do. The Trojans finished the regular season leading the nation at plus-22. I smell a trend: the 2003 Trojans finished at plus-20, and last year's USC team finished at plus-19. What's more, Texas comes into the Rose Bowl at plus-6. Turnovers look like a big advantage for USC. With the injuries and inexperience on the USC defense this season, creating turnovers has never been more important.
7.5: The yards per offensive play that the Trojans averaged this season. Army set the NCAA record of 7.9 per play in 1945 against wartime competition. USC isn't far behind, and against full-strength competition. The Trojans won't catch Army -- not without a 1,000-yard game -- but the sheer production of USC over the course of the season is stunning in scope.
6. This will be the sixth time in school history that USC has gone into a bowl game with an undefeated record. The Trojans' record in those five previous games (four of them the Rose Bowl): 5-0. That includes last season, of course. Historically and currently, USC knows how to finish.
Pat -- Why Texas will win
10. Texas starts faster. The Horns have scored the first 14 points (at least) in each of their last four games, and have scored first 11 out of 12 games. They've outscored opponents 180-59 in the first quarter and 362-104 in the first half. Coming from behind against Texas won't be as easy for USC as coming from behind against Fresno, Notre Dame, Arizona State or Oregon.
9. A lift from Oklahoma. Texas might benefit from the Sooners' pitiful lay-down performance in the Orange Bowl last January. USC's coaches have undoubtedly been on guard against overconfidence and have tried to convince their players that this year's Big 12 winner is way better than last year's Big 12 winner. But human nature being what it is, there are probably a few guys in cardinal and gold who will be a little too confident Wednesday night.
8. USC wideouts vs. Texas secondary is not a mismatch. Matt Leinart, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith will have opportunities to make plays if the Horns lock in with man-to-man coverage. But it won't be a replay of last year, when Leinart raked an overmatched OU secondary. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Cedric Griffin gives away three inches to Jarrett but is physical and athletic enough to contest every pass thrown his way. And if you give versatile safety Michael Huff a chance to hit you, he'll leave a mark.
7. Strength in numbers. If this becomes a battle of attrition, you have to like the team that rotates as many as four running backs and five wide receivers. If exhaustion or injuries are a factor, that favors Texas. The Horns have a bundle of guys capable of going the distance from anywhere. They peeled off 26 plays of 40 yards or more this year, and nine different players had a hand in those 26 plays.
6. MattReggieTV.com. That's the video log, or vlog, that USC used this season to promote its two star players. The school could easily be flagged for excessive celebration of Bush and Leinart. As it's athletic Web site said, "It's raw, it's edgy, it's fun it's Trojan football, reality TV style." Most reality TV shows don't have three successful years, so we figure USC is pushing the statute of limitations with this one.
Ivan -- Why USC will win
5. The No. 5 and Only, USC junior tailback Reggie Bush. He's on his way to becoming college football's decathlete: running, catching, smiling, returning, passing, hurdling, gawk-inducing, adjective-defying, scoring and flat-out leading. And he seems to be the last one who will say that he is going to the NFL next fall. He'll go out with a flourish.
4th Down. USC doesn't have many of them, and when they do, good things happen. The Trojans punted only 31 times this season, the fewest in the nation. On the 27 fourth downs that they went for it, the Trojans converted 17.
3rd Quarter. Four times this season, the Trojans trailed at halftime. In those third quarters, USC outscored Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame and Fresno State by a combined 70-7. Over the course of the 12-game season, the Trojans won the third quarter by a cumulative score of 164-35, and the second half by a combined 305-121.
2. Not to go all Doublemint on you, but if a team has two 1,000-yard rushers, two Heisman Trophy winners, and two consecutive national championships, I think that might qualify as one, if not two, reasons to win a BCS Championship Game.
1. History. There's too much history within the grasp of USC for the Trojans to let it get away. A victory will mean an unprecedented third consecutive AP national championship, an unprecedented second consecutive BCS championship and a 35-game winning streak that will tie for the third longest in the last 100 years.
Pat -- Why Texas will win
5. Relaxed Mack. Most of the Big 12 will have to see it to believe it, but I have faith that coach Mack Brown really will be able to handle playing for the national championship without needing a defibrillator and two spare pairs of pants. If new, laid-back Mack can coach this game with the right mix of confidence, looseness, adventurousness and pragmatism, Texas has a great chance.
4. Bevo is undefeated in Pasadena. And with those horns, he's definitely the more intimidating of the two sideline animals in this game. Traveler, the Trojans' prissy white horse, wants no part of Texas' steer.
3. Thirty-five is enough. It simply runs counter to the basic laws of college football that the University of Texas -- and the entire state of Texas -- would go 35 years without a national championship. There are too many great players, too much fan passion, too much tradition, too much support for the program, too great a demand for excellence for the Longhorn title drought to go on any longer.
2. Three is too many. There is a good reason why there's never been a national title threepeat: It's incredibly hard. This is the football gods' last chance to underscore that immortality doesn't come cheap, by denying the Trojans on the doorstep to history.
1. Everything's bigger in Texas. Even unrealistic optimism.
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