Commentary

Trojans focused on Nebraska, not national rankings

Originally Published: September 15, 2006
By Ted Miller | Special to ESPN.com

LSU No. 1? Sure, whatever.

And, no, that was most certainly not a yawn coming from Heritage Hall, so don't try to pin disrespect on USC. Some of the Trojans even watched LSU put a hurting on Virginia Tech, a performance that still has Bengal Tigers fans and college football pundits madly effusing. They came away with a number of impressions.

Pete Carroll
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesPete Carroll and USC know what happens when you look past opponents.

For one, pizza delivery in Los Angeles takes forever on Saturday night.

Oh, and LSU?

"I think they looked pretty good," USC cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "But I don't know if it was Virginia Tech just wasn't that good. So it was hard to see how good they really are."

What about USC coach Pete Carroll? How could he resist strapping himself into a recliner with a cold beverage and watching LSU and coach Les Miles, who trashed the Pac-10 this summer?

"I was recruiting the whole weekend so I didn't see many games," Carroll said of his bye-weekend activity.

Well, surely All-American defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis tuned in to see how his LSU counterpart, the apparently unblockable Glenn Dorsey, performed.

"I don't really watch much football on TV, but I caught a little bit," Ellis said. "How did [Dorsey] play? I hear he's a good D-lineman. I wish him the best."

Drat. No quips, dripping sarcasm or transcontinental trash talk. That's no fun.

Ah, but the omnivorous maw of college football hype must be fed, and so we present this week's controversy: Should second-ranked LSU have jumped USC in the polls because it has beaten two opponents into a pulp and the Trojans have yet to do squat?

And, honestly, our spicy friends on the Bayou have a point. Those were two dynamic performances compared to the Trojans' soporific 38-10 victory over against woeful Idaho and their sleep-in-late during a Week 2 bye.

Therein lies the rub for USC, as it prepares to visit No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Time to wake up and manifest greatness.

You can't control the rankings, and it doesn't matter who's ranked No. 1 or No. 2 right now. The season's just started. We don't worry about rankings.

--Terrell Thomas

National poll voters have crossed their arms impatiently, demanding a show of dominance in Lincoln, the first of three USC road games against ranked teams (LSU, with its oh-so-brutal SEC schedule, has none).

Pollsters want style points. They require an effortless pounding. They want the Trojans to sing their part in this bit of intersectional musical theater -- you know, "Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you."

If not, that No. 1 ranking flies south.

Now, that did sound a bit like a yawn.

"You can't control the rankings, and it doesn't matter who's ranked No. 1 or No. 2 right now," Thomas said. "The season's just started. We don't worry about rankings."

That's good because USC had plenty to worry about otherwise, itself and that red team in corn country.

For one, the Trojans are beaten up, despite the week of rest. Two starters are out -- cornerback Josh Pinkard and center Matt Spanos -- and three others are hurting: tailback Chauncey Washington (shoulder), receiver Patrick Turner (stinger) and linebacker Brian Cushing (ankle).

Most worrisome: True freshman Kris O'Dowd again will replace Spanos. Previously noted as the first freshman to start at center in program history against Idaho, O'Dowd probably will find the going tougher making line calls amid the red din of Memorial Stadium.

Secondly, Nebraska finally has a quarterback who can run coach Bill Callahan's pro-style offense, courtesy of the Pac-10. Senior Sam Keller, who was controversially beaten out last season at Arizona State by Rudy Carpenter and therefore opted to transfer, didn't look sharp last week at Wake Forest, tossing a pair of interceptions and fumbling twice, but his presence probably insures the Cornhuskers won't duplicate their submissive performance last season at USC.

In that 28-10 defeat, Nebraska managed just 211 total yards with a surprisingly conservative game plan. Expect more passing this time because the swashbuckling Keller can toss the rock. He averaged 309 yards passing per game before getting hurt seven games into the Sun Devils' 2005 season, and it's hard to imagine the Cornhuskers will be able to consistently run the ball against the speedy USC defense.

Keller, though, won't scare the Trojans. When he last faced them as a Sun Devil in 2005, he tossed five interceptions.

On the other side of the ball, USC quarterback John David Booty and a talented but untested offense will be challenged by a boisterous home crowd and a solid defense, one that is particularly salty in the secondary.

Yet few seem to care that Nebraska is the Big 12 North favorite and is defending its cherished, storied home turf. The scuttlebutt is the Trojans could fall to No. 2 if they don't generously cover a 10-point spread.

That would thrill LSU fans, who have been obsessed with USC since the Tigers' 2003 BCS title ended up mostly marginalized outside of Louisiana by the college football nation.

The AP and Football Writers Association of American polls democratically voted the Trojans national champions, while the coaches were contractually obligated to vote for LSU.

"I think they're still bitter about our 2003 national title," Thomas said.

That's a big reason Miles, blathering this summer to boosters, spoke of his eagerness to play USC, while panning the Trojans' Pac-10 competition.

Conversely, the Trojans seem pleasantly nonplussed when asked about LSU. They don't share the fixation.

Opined Thomas, when asked to imagine a possible title game matchup, "We want to play the best team out there. But if LSU gets there, and we're the No. 1 or No. 2 team, then obviously that's the marquee game that everyone wants to see."

His preoccupied tone when uttering this suggested a person futzing with his iPod.

To USC, the national championship race is business, not personal, and, as the Trojans learned a year ago following face-plants against Oregon State and UCLA, thinking about championships instead of the present opponent can render the whole controversy moot.

Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Ted Miller | email

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