5 Thoughts - Is USC Really Out Of The Chase?
Stanford WR Mark Bradford
Stanford WR Mark Bradford
Posted Oct 8, 2007

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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Week 5

It's Stanford. At Home. You Don't.

By Pete Fiutak   

1. 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 out.

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 anyone.

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 Season

By Richard Cirminiello

. 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

By John Harris

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.

At Least They're Not Going To Play Florida

By Pete Fiutak   

. 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 Buckeyes.

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 too good.

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 loss.

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

By Matthew Zemek

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.