Posted: Tuesday January 3, 2006 11:15AM; Updated: Tuesday January 3, 2006 12:30PM
Marquee Matchup: Rose Bowl
No. 1 USC (12-0) vs. No. 2 Texas (12-0)
Jan. 4, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Rose Bowl (91,000)
SI.com's B.J. Schecter analyzes the BCS showdown between the Trojans and Longhorns.
Setting the Stage
It's fitting that the college football season comes to a close with the game everyone wants to see. It was almost a forgone conclusion that USC would be here and the Trojans did nothing to disappoint. And from the moment Texas knocked off Ohio State in Columbus on Sept. 10, the hype for this game began. The BCS may be tangled in computer formulas, and you may need a Ph.D. from M.I.T. to understand it, but this year it doesn't matter. The two best teams will be playing for the national championship.
And, oh, what a matchup it is. USC comes in as the two-time defending national champion, has won 34 straight games and features this year's Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, and last year's, Matt Leinart. Texas has won 19 straight and is led by dual-threat QB Vince Young, the Heisman runner-up who averages more than 300 yards of total offense a game. Statistically, both teams are impressive. USC leads the nation in total offense (580.2 yards per game) and is second in scoring (50.0); Texas is No. 1 in scoring (50.9) and third in total offense (508.4). Strap in, football fans. This is one game you can't miss.
Breaking down USC
LenDale White has become very familiar with the end zone, rushing for 21 TDs.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The Trojans have an abundance of weapons on offense and it all starts with Bush. "The President" is a big play waiting to happen and every time he touches the ball, fans (and defensive coordinators) hold their breath. He averages 217.6 total yards per game and has rushed for 554 yards in his past two outings. But focus too much on Bush and running back LenDale White (1,178 yards, 21 TDs), Leinart (3,450 passing yards, 27 TDs) and wideouts Dwayne Jarrett (1,153 yards, 15 TDs) and Steve Smith (928 yards, 5 TDs) will burn you. The key to beating the Trojans? Limit their big plays, keep their offense off the field and hope they turn the ball over.
If USC has one Achilles heel it's defense. Though the Trojans have improved throughout the year, they are giving up 344.7 yards per game and will have trouble with Young and Texas' ground attack. USC has a pair of playmakers up front in ends Frostee Rucker (12 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) and Lawrence Jackson (13 tackles for loss, 10 sacks) and a solid middle linebacker in Oscar Lua, who leads the team with 60 tackles. All-America strong safety Darnell Bing (4 interceptions) is the star of the secondary, but USC has shown vulnerability on the corners. The Trojans must tighten up -- or Young will pick them apart.
Breaking down Texas
Freshman Jamaal Charles burst onto the scene this year, scoring 11 rushing TDs.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
From the moment he looked Bush in the eye and congratulated him on winning the Heisman, Young has had a chip on his shoulder. And that can't be a good thing for USC. Young is the most explosive quarterback in the nation and can beat teams with his legs (he's the Longhorns' leading rusher with 850 yards) or his arm (he's completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,769 yards and 26 TDs). Young may have an unconventional throwing motion, but he has a cannon and can beat USC deep. In addition to Young, Texas has a stable of running backs (freshman sensation Jamaal Charles, the emerging Ramonce Taylor, Selvin Young and Henry Melton), a terrific tight end (David Thomas) and a pair of big-play receivers (Billy Pittman and Limas Sweed).
While both teams have explosive offenses, where they differ is on the defensive side of the ball. Texas' D has been dominant and is ranked fourth nationally in scoring (14.6 points per game), fifth in passing D (155.9 yards per game) and sixth in total defense (280.3). Coordinator Gene Chizik hasn't lost a game in two years (he was the defensive mastermind at Auburn last year) and the 'Horns have playmakers aplenty: free safety Michael Griffin (116 tackles), strong safety Michael Huff (97 tackles, 9 tackles for loss), corner Cedric Griffin (78 tackles, 15 pass breakups), tackle Rodrique Wright (13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), middle linebacker Aaron Harris (87 tackles, 12 tackles for loss) and ends Brian Robison (15 tackles for loss, 7 sacks) and Tim Crowder (9 tackles for loss). Texas is fast, aggressive and may just have enough to slow USC down.
The best players usually shine on the biggest stage, and the stars on both sides aren't likely to disappoint. This game is extremely difficult to pick because there are plenty of reasons why each team should win. USC is on the verge of earning dynasty status, the Trojans are basically playing at home, they traditionally play well in the Rose Bowl (where they are 21-8 all-time and have won three in a row) and have the best player in college football. And we saw what happened last year when coach Pete Carroll had a month to prepare for the national title game.
Texas hasn't won a national championship since 1970, but this isn't unfamiliar territory for the Longhorns. Young led Texas to a dramatic comeback victory over Michigan with 192 rushing yards and four touchdowns in last year's Rose Bowl and is dying to show the nation that he is the best player in college football. Longhorns coach Mack Brown has been much maligned for not being able to win the big one. Hogwash. People said the same thing before Tom Osborne, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden won national titles. This is the best Texas team since the days of Darrell Royal, and Brown has molded this group into champions.
So now comes the moment of truth -- my prediction. I've been back and forth 100 times and I keep coming back to one thing: defense. Both teams have plenty of offensive firepower and you can expect a lot of points to be scored. But which team can get that one, crucial stop in crunch time? USC is a team for the ages, but the Trojans are beatable and have had plenty of flaws exposed this season. And as good as USC's skill players are, Texas has more talent from top to bottom. In what should be a thrilling game, Texas will dethrone the two-time defending champs.