5 Thoughts - 2008 Rose Bowl
USC RB Joe McKnight
USC RB Joe McKnight
Posted Jan 1, 2008

Even with the 49-17 blowout of Illinois, USC still might not really be that national title powerhouse people are making it out to be. Worst Rose Bowl ever? What could've been done to make it better? Joe McKnight and the Trojans made it a laugher, and now the hype machine will get rolling for next year's team.

5 Thoughts - Rose Bowl

USC 49 ... Illinois 17

USC 49 ... Illinois 17
- 2008 CFN Rose Bowl Preview
- 2008 Rose Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

By Pete Fiutak   

1. USC might have won in a blowout, but this just isn’t the USC that was everyone’s preseason No. 1. The defense is certainly special, and winning the Rose Bowl is always great no matter what else happened during the year, but this isn’t a typical USC offense despite all the points put up in the debacle. To be USC, there has to be more big play ability from the receiving corps, and there needs to be more from the quarterback. John David Booty was fine with a nice stretch over the second half of the year, but he got 15 days to throw, like he did last year against Michigan, had his choice of open targets to hit time and again on short to midrange throws, and more often than not, Fred David and Joe McKnight did the rest. There’s no question this is one of the best teams in America, but don’t just assume this is the same national championship caliber Trojan team of past seasons. Illinois just isn’t that great.

2. Get the Joe McKnight hype machine rolling. While not Reggie Bush, he’s just as fluid, almost as quick, and as exciting as anyone in college football. Now the goal will be to figure out how to use him. He’s not going to be a 30-carry-per-game back who’ll be a tough workhorse, but he has to have the ball in his hands at least 15 times and he has to get the ball in space as much as humanly possible. He’s great at creating his own holes and has the talent to make anyone miss one on one, but when he has the ball on the move, forget about it.

3. Why did Illinois insist on staying with Juice Williams for so long? The offense needed more of a downfield passing threat as the game went on, and while Williams had his moments and came up with a few good strikes to move the offense, Eddie McGee should’ve at least got a series or two just to see if he could add a little more of a spark early on. The passing game has to be more than just a few little screen passes. It’s possible head coach Ron Zook is sending a message for 2008 and beyond; this is Juice’s team. By leaving in his starter, Zook is saying he’ll sink or swim with one of the key players who got the Illini to Pasadena, and can get them back with a little bit of tweaking. Illinois beat Ohio State by getting big plays early from the passing game. There’s a ceiling on what Illinois can do if Williams doesn’t improve.

4. Let this be a lesson to the Rose Bowl, the BCS, and everyone who tries to force tradition over great matchups. The Big Ten – Pac 10 thing in the Rose Bowl only matters if you have the two champions. If it was Georgia vs. USC, there would’ve been more of a buzz, it would’ve been a far better game and would’ve held far more significance. Do we really know anything more about USC? Beating Georgia would’ve settled a lot more debates and would’ve cleared up the season a lot better.  Illinois was a deer caught in the headlights from the start. All week long this didn’t seem like a team ready for primetime with a happy-to-be-here attitude (no matter what was said in interviews) compared to the been-there-done-everything Trojans. Sometimes teams have to take their lumps before they can get to the next level, but do they have to come in the Rose Bowl? Illinois didn’t belong in the BCS, and it showed.

5. Illinois head man Ron Zook won national coach of the year honors, but is he really more than a top-notch recruiter? The jury is still out on that one. He wasn’t great in bowl games at Florida, his Illini team wasn’t even remotely close to being competitive for most of this game, and there weren’t many adjustments that worked to slow down the Trojans on either side of the ball.

Worst Rose Bowl ever? The Miami blasting of Nebraska for the 2001 national title wasn’t pretty, but Rashard Mendenhall and Arrelious Benn home runs aside, this was the ugliest Rose Bowl since the last time Illinois came to Pasadena and soiled itself in a 45-9 loss to UCLA in 1984. So what went so wrong? Is Illinois really this bad? Of course not. It needed to get more from both lines never took advantage of the early momentum swings. It’s not like the Illini didn’t show fight and it’s not like it quit, but it seemed like it knew it was over early, found a little bit of a spark with a few big plays, and then went right back to getting its doors blown off. Now it’ll be interesting to see how Zook and his team handle this and build off it. Still incredibly young, this could be the ultimate motivational tool going into next year.