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5 Thoughts - Is USC Really Out Of The Chase?
Stanford WR Mark Bradford
Is USC really out of the national title hunt now? Who's lingering back in the championship chase? From he LSU player who makes things go, to the Cincinnati quarterback who's turning things around, here are the latest 5 Thoughts.
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It's Stanford. At Home.
Remember this week. Remember how you feel right now.
Remember how you felt when you saw an awful Stanford
team beat USC. Remember how, all of a sudden, you
realize just how average the Trojans looked against
everyone but Nebraska.
Sorry Trojans, but unless something epic happens, you’re
Beat Cal by 30 in Berkeley? Stanford 24, USC 23.
Thump Oregon by 27 in Autzen? Stanford 24, USC 23.
Light up Arizona State like a Christmas tree in Tempe?
Stanford 24, USC 23.
You could make a case that if USC ends up running the
rest of the table, the four road wins at Nebraska,
Oregon, California and Arizona State, along with a date
at Notre Dame, and wins over Oregon State and UCLA,
would give it the most impressive one-loss résumé of
Stanford 24, USC 23.
No, you don’t lose to Stanford at home and still get a
shot to stay in the national title hunt. Yes, this was
worse than Oklahoma losing at Colorado. Yes, this was
worse than Wisconsin losing at Illinois, West Virginia
losing at South Florida, and any other defeat you can
name by any of the top 25ers currently with one loss.
You go to the back of the line after a loss like this,
and no, your brand name, even if you do beat everyone
else like a drum, doesn’t automatically get you a free
pass at the end of the year.
Remember how lifeless the win over Idaho was. Remember
how close Washington came to finishing the comeback.
Remember how the defense couldn’t stop STANFORD
when all the chips were on the table.
USC doesn't have to win to get into any title
discussion, it has to go on a tear never before seen,
and this team doesn't appear capable of doing it. Right
now it’s just another very, very good team that just so
happens to have more talent than anyone else.
Patching Together a Huge
When the movie about the life of
Brett Favre goes into production, the filmmakers might want to consider
casting current Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk in the lead role. Mauk will
probably never play a down in the NFL, and is certainly not the second
coming of the future Hall-of-Famer. He just plays the game as if he's
always channeling Favre, playing with a bum shoulder, challenging
defensive linemen, scrambling in one direction before heaving a pass
clear across his body, and just generally being an inspirational
catalyst for the Bearcat offense. On Saturday night, Mauk forced a few
ill-advised passes where they didn't belong, but also forced his will on
the Rutgers defense, going 20-of-37 for 257 yards and three touchdowns,
while scrambling for 29 yards and occasionally jawing with some of the
larger Scarlet Knights defenders. More important than box score numbers,
his moxie and determination have rubbed off on a young team that entered
this season with minimal veteran leadership on the offensive side of the
ball. Mauk has excelled in his new role, helping pilot Cincy to its
first 6-0 start in more than half a century and multiple weeks in the
Top 25. It's not a role that’ll land the Wake Forest transfer an Oscar
or a star on the Walk of Fame, but don't tell the rookie head coach.
Brian Kelly knows he has something special in Mauk, a senior leader
that's bubbling over with intangibles.
The Number of That LSU Mack Truck
3. #18. It might be a quirky coaching thing, maybe it has some
strategy involved, but if you’re the Man, a stud, a “playa”, they refer
to you by number. Les Miles did it last night on ESPN. If you watched
the LSU-Florida game, you saw #18; Verne Lundquist told you his name was
Jacob Hester, but he’s reached “call him by his number” status this
morning. And, it stuck up on me, like it did for the rest of you.
Before the Mississippi
State opener, we spoke with an LSU insider and asked how good Keiland
Williams was going to be this year. We didn’t get those words out of
our mouths before he told us this coaching staff really loves Jacob
Hester. Still, we didn’t believe. The day before the Virginia Tech
game, we interviewed running backs coach Larry Porter and asked him when
we were going to see more of Williams and Charles Scott. Porter
continued to praise Hester. Man, we thought, does this coaching staff
just not get it?
Well, after watching
the former Evangel star pound 23 times for 106 yards against a tough,
physical Florida defense, picking up key fourth downs all night long,
maybe it was the rest of us that weren’t getting it. Hester is as tough
between the tackles as any running back in the nation and when it’s
gotten difficult for the Tigers this year, offensive coordinator Gary
Crowton has turned to Hester to bail them out. The other skill players
might be fancier and prettier, but it’s plain to see that Hester is the
Man. I mean #18.
Least They're Not Going To Play Florida
You fell for them. You had the 2006 season tied up in a nice,
neat little bow. Ohio State was the best team, number
one from pillar to post, Troy Smith was the best player,
the offense was unstoppable, and the season was set for
the history books. And then came the epic blasting by
Florida in the BCS Championship game to make everyone
feel like chumps for buying so heavily into the
I know, I know, like you, I tried to tell everyone about
the team's flaws, and I thought the Gator Defense was
going to stuff the Buckeye attack, but I, like you,
picked Ohio State to win. The team appeared to be just
Fast forward to the start of this season, when everyone
wanted nothing to do with Jim Tressel's bunch after
feeling so foolish. There's no way the team could
replace Smith, Ted Ginn, and Anthony Gonzalez, right?
Well, yeah, but there was no way the defense could
replace A.J. Hawk and all the superstars off the 2005
defense, yet that didn't stop OSU from being number one
throughout last year. This season, it's the reverse,
with all the stars back on defense, and the offense
replacing all-stars with other all-stars.
Sorry everyone, but Ohio State might just end up back in
the national championship game with a better team, and
you're not going to see it coming.
Fine, so Youngstown State, Akron, Washington,
Northwestern and Minnesota aren't world-beaters, but
neither is Stanford, and this year, wins are wins are
wins. The opposing offenses haven't been Florida, Texas
Tech and Hawaii, but the Wildcats, Gophers and
Boilermakers have all been cranking out yards in chunks
against everyone. The Buckeyes have allowed just two
meaningful touchdowns all season long with the other
three coming after the games have been decided. 43
points. Meanwhile, the offense is running well, the
punting game is among the best in America, and the
offensive line is playing even better than last year.
The remaining schedule: Kent State, Michigan State, at
Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and at Michigan. It's
good enough, but it's not a total killer. In other
words, a team that's national title-good should roll
through this, and then hope for an LSU or California
It's time to take another good, hard look at Ohio State.
And then you can argue about how Florida would probably
beat it like a drum.
Welcome the Big Boy Table
5. What is by far the most
intriguing aspect of this clinically insane 2007 season is that
you're now going to see teams deal with a spotlight they've never
faced before (or at least, not in a very long time, when today's
players weren't even born).
Cal occupies the Pac-10 and Rose Bowl driver's seats. The Bears have
a huge opportunity, but with that Golden (Bear) road comes withering
pressure the likes of which Jeff Tedford's boys haven't yet
experienced. How will the Berkeley bunch handle the heat?
South Florida already felt the heat against Florida Atlantic? How
will the Bulls deal with a different kind of pressure, the pressure
that accompanies a Bulls-eye on your back?
Boston College will have to endure life with a (6) plastered next to
its name. The Eagles are now a big fat target. They don't know what
it's like to be in the top six. They'll find out soon enough.
Cincinnati is rapidly climbing the ladder, too. Missouri is on the
verge of the top ten. Pretty heady stuff for young teams unfamiliar
with the glare of the big time.
How will all these teams respond? Rutgers and Kentucky, among
others, couldn't handle the heat? Are the boys in Tampa and Cincy,
Berkeley and Boston, ready to answer the bell?
Ah, this is going to be delicious. Sports are particularly enjoyable
to watch when the psychological dramas become that much more
magnified and pronounced. Seeing how athletes respond to pressure
gives athletic competition its eternally compelling qualities.
College football will give us the best and most poignant sports
moments of 2007. Heck, it already has, but even better snapshots are
on their way.