Looking back, looking ahead
Final thoughts on USC's Orange Bowl domination, and an early '05 top 10
Posted: Thursday January 6, 2005 11:35AM; Updated: Thursday January 6, 2005 1:07PM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As I reflect on Tuesday night's events, I find myself incredibly grateful to the BCS for continuing to preserve the integrity of the bowl system over the perceived overcommercialization that would come with a playoff. Personally, I know when I think an amateur athletic event, I think of P. Diddy, Ashlee Simpson, Will Ferrell and U2.
Some other final thoughts on the Orange Bowl:
Just think, if Texas had any kind of passing game whatsoever -- and assuming Mack Brown would think to use it against Oklahoma -- the Longhorns probably would have been here rather than the Sooners. The fact that Texas managed to score no points against a team with such a susceptible secondary has to make it the most galling of all five straight Red River losses.
You have to feel for Mark Bradley. The former walk-on transfer from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, who was one of Oklahoma's biggest feel-good stories all season -- he was part of a USA Today cover story the day of the game -- will forever be remembered by Sooners fans as the Orange Bowl goat. In fact Bob Stoops made sure of it with his postgame comments.
At this point, I don't think anyone doubts USC's ability to reload from season to season, but as Pete Carroll acknowledged in his morning-after news conference, the hardest player for the Trojans to replace next year will be defensive tackle Mike Patterson. "He's been a fantastic performer and we don't have anybody like him in the program," said Carroll. Don't fret for USC's D-line too much, however. Both Manuel Wright and Jeff Schweiger, both significant contributors already, likely will move into the starting lineup.
Who else will be returning that played a big role for the Trojans on Tuesday? Oh, only LenDale White, Reggie Bush, Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, Dominique Byrd, four starting offensive linemen plus Lofa Tatupu, Lawrence Jackson, Darnell Bing, Tom Malone and former star Winston Justice. (We'll refrain for now from including Matt Leinart.) Think they'll be all right?
Finally, I'd like to begin lobbying my editors on the importance of covering the two-time defending national champions' 2005 season opener and what a great service it would be to SI.com's readers. The Trojans open at Hawaii.
What the hell, Mandel? "The question isn't whether Auburn could have beaten the Trojans, but whether they would have suffered a less embarrassing fate than the Sooners?" I'm glad the all wise and all knowing Stewart Mandel can even look into imaginary extra dimensions and come up with game outcomes. Yes, USC looked like the best team in the country, and we Tigers can deal with that. But assuming that we'd be hopelessly outmatched and without a chance? How in the world did you come to that conclusion?
Sometimes when you're writing a quick reaction column right after a game ended you wind up penning something that seemed to make sense at the time but which you come to regret later. Such was that line. The point I was trying to make was that the way USC played, no one would have beaten them, but I realized the next day it came across more like I was denigrating Auburn.
I covered the Tigers three times this season, and as regular readers realize, no one was higher on them than me. I think they were very much in the class of last year's LSU team. Of course there's a chance they would have beaten the Trojans. I'm certainly not naïve enough to think otherwise. If nothing else, you wouldn't have seen Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen looking like lost children trying to defend USC's receivers the way Oklahoma's Brodney Pool and Marcus Walker did. Auburn's defense is too good to have let the score get that out of hand.
But what separated the Trojans from the pack is just how dominant they are along their defensive front. Chances are they would have shut down Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown the same way they did Adrian Peterson, and while it's possible Jason Campbell may have handled the pressure better than Jason White, I doubt receiver Courtney Taylor and Co. would have gotten open any more than did Mark Clayton and his crew. That's why I feel entirely comfortable with anointing USC No. 1. The Tigers, given a chance to make a statement against Virginia Tech, came up a bit short. The Trojans, who really didn't need to make any kind of statement, made a 200-decibel one.
When is someone going to discuss what appears to be very obvious to me, that the Big 12 is very overrated conference. They play few decent out-of-conference opponents, then Texas and Oklahoma beat up on the rest and we all sit back and think they're awesome. The last two years when Oklahoma has proved it didn't belong in the big game [and 2001 Nebraska before that], along with the failings of other Big 12 teams in bowls, seems to support the case of a weak conference.
All conferences go through both up-and-down cycles, and I agree with you that most of us who cover the sport have been slow to recognize the Big 12's shortcomings. I don't think anyone would say the conference was overrated a few years ago when Oklahoma began its current run by dismantling Florida State in the Orange Bowl and Nebraska was still churning out powerful squads. Texas probably was given too much credit too quickly but for the most part has been a highly competitive program.
That said, I think most of the media -- myself included -- fell under the spell of both Bob Stoops and Mack Brown in believing that A) the Sooners were the second coming of the New England Patriots and B) that beating Texas every year somehow proved that. Don't get me wrong, Oklahoma was one of the best teams in the country these past two seasons. The difference between conferences is a fine line, and for the Sooners to go 16-1 in the Big 12 was no small feat. However, the reality is there aren't a whole lot of good defensive teams in that league right now, and more than anything it probably made White, his offensive line and receivers look better than they actually were. All you had to do was watch how badly Oklahoma State and Texas A&M -- which both put up 35 points on Oklahoma -- floundered in their bowl games once they went up against real defenses. Same thing with the Sooners.
The one team that bucked that trend this bowl season, obviously, was Texas Tech. The Red Raiders benefit from the opposite effect. Out-of-conference teams that haven't faced Mike Leach's offense simply can't handle it, while conference teams such as Oklahoma and Texas that see it every year are better prepared.
Any chance you'll retract that Oklahoma is one of the teams of the decade? I'm not trying to make this an Ohio State thing, but if Ohio State has yet to follow up on the momentum from their 2002 title game, in what way has Oklahoma?
I only said the winner of Tuesday's game possibly would assert itself as the Team of the Decade. I don't think anyone would argue that USC has put itself in position to do just that. As Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione said to me after the game, the Sooners probably still will go ahead and field a football team next season, but their attempt at a dynasty obviously took a severe blow. They go into next season with some major rebuilding ahead, and as you mentioned, they're really in no different a position long term than Ohio State or any number of others.
After that awful Reggie Bush showing in the Orange Bowl, do you wish you had voted differently? He looked completely average on every play but one (the long run that he should have scored on). No player in college football this year was more overrated.
Nate: Austin is a fantastic city, and I'm sure there is no shortage of quality mental facilities there where you can get the help you need.
Was the booing of Ashlee Simpson as bad as it sounded on ABC?
Unfortunately, I'm not really qualified to say because I was inside standing in line for a hot dog at the time. Ashlee may be lacking in the talent department but I reluctantly admit I think she's cute. In fact I remember looking up at a TV with no sound on and thinking, "She sure looks a lot better than Oklahoma."
Well, we're down to the last Mailbag question of the season, so it's got to be something good. Something that can carry us through the long months to go before spring football.
Something like ...
What would be your top 10 teams for the 2005 season?
Considering I was so accurate in my predictions this season (thanks, Minnesota), I'm amazed anyone actually wants my opinion on such matters. But you know I'm not going to pass it up.
Right on the cusp: Louisville, Auburn, Miami, Georgia, Texas A&M.
And so, another season comes to a close, and as much I'd love to spend the next several months continuing to exchange barbs with the readers and learning new adjectives for my intellect, basketball duties call. Have a good winter and try to stay out of trouble, particularly if you're an Ohio State football player.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.