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Archive for Saturday, August 18, 2007

Football needs a monster, and it could be USC

August 18, 2007

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— When Pac-10 football coaches gathered here for media day, their whimpering drowned out the jet engines at nearby LAX.

How, they cried, are we supposed to beat Southern California?

From the backfield to the secondary, the top-ranked Trojans have more talent than anyone in the nation - and maybe anyone in history, according to Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.

"There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and may be the best team in the history of college football," Harbaugh said.

One coach privately said he'd picked USC to finish second.

"In the NFC West," he said.

You'd think the Pac-10 had decreed that USC would be given five downs this season. Or that the Trojans' field goals - not that they'll have to settle for field goals, mind you - would be worth four points.

"When you watch SC play, it's a horror film if you're an opponent," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said.

Every horror film needs a monster. So does college football.

We love our underdogs, the assorted Boise States, Wake Forests and Rutgers. But monsters give the rest of the country something to shoot at.

Pete Carroll's black shoe brigade is shaping up as the latest in a long line of scary teams.

Go back to the 1940s, when Notre Dame and Army ruled the land. In the 1950s, Oklahoma's NCAA-record 47-game winning streak was truly monstrous. Alabama, Texas, Miami, Ohio State and Nebraska have all played the monster role over the years.

This isn't to pooh-pooh parity. Without it, we'd never have seen Boise State tailback Ian Johnson propose to his cheerleader girlfriend moments after the Broncos stunned Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Little guys bring charm to the campus game. But at some point parity begins to morph into mediocrity. For evidence, check out the NFL, where they reward 9-7 records with playoff berths.

In college football, it's good to be great. But there's a difference between a great team and a monster.

Monster teams have the unique ability to create ripples from shore to shore. This summer, USC's presence has been felt down in the humid corners of the Southeastern Conference. LSU coach Les Miles created a stir when he claimed the Trojans had an easy road to the Bowl Championship Series title game because they play in the Pac-10.

When the Trojans' game at Arizona State was moved to Thanksgiving night for ESPN, the Sun Devils acted as if they'd been chosen for "American Idol."

Likewise, they're already circling the dates - and the wagons - for USC's visits to Nebraska on Sept. 15 and Notre Dame on Oct 20. The USC game is shaping up as the biggest game of the year in Lincoln and South Bend - and it'll be the biggest in many years if the hometown teams can pull off an upset.

When a monster team tumbles, the thud reverberates across time zones.

Ask any Longhorns fan where they were on Jan. 4, 2006, when Texas took down the top-ranked Trojans in the Rose Bowl. They may still have the ticket stub in their wallet, assuming it's not mounted over the fireplace.

If you want to see a Penn Stater smile, just say "Vinny." Memories of the Nittany Lions' Fiesta Bowl victory over Miami, sealed with a handful of Vinny Testaverde interceptions, and the 1986 national title that went with it come gleefully rushing back.

What does it take to be a monster?

It helps if your trophy case has an elevator. Think of USC's Heritage Hall.

Monster teams often are coached by men so big they require only one name - Bear, Woody, Ara, to name a few.

From time to time, a monster's tentacles will extend beyond the playing field. OU's athletic dorm in the 1980s is but one example of monstrous excess.

The 2007 Trojans have yet to earn the monster title. They enter this year riding a winning streak of ... one. That leaves them 33 shy of the Pac-10 record set by Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and friends from 2003-05.

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