SI.com's Arash Markazi has been on the road for the last two weeks, hitting up five bowl games -- the Las Vegas, Insight, Holiday, Fiesta and Rose -- and has chronicled his journey in a daily Bowl Blog. His final stop was Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
Walking off the field at the Rose Bowl, Texas coach Mack Brown clutched the crystal football that sits atop the BCS championship trophy and wove through a sea of cameras and well-wishers with the ease and grace of Vince Young, holding it above his head toward a plethora of burnt-orange fans above the tunnel leading to the locker room. "This is so special," Brown said. "It's surreal."
A few feet away, actor (and Texas alum) Matthew McConaughey could hardly control himself as he held a Texas national championship hat in his right hand and hugged every player in sight. "Immortal," he said as he flashed a Hook'em Horns sign in the face of Kasey Studdard. "You're No. 1 for the rest of your life, my man. No one can ever take that away from you."
Meanwhile, Young danced over the confetti-laced field like he was at a nightclub on Sunset Boulevard. "I told you it would come down to the last play," he said. "I told y'all."
It was a surreal sight for most USC players as they walked off the field -- losers for the first time in 35 games and over two years. Some Trojans were still looking around the field and at the scoreboard a few minutes after the game, unable to fathom the final score. "It still hasn't sunk in," said head coach Pete Carroll. "I still can't believe it."
While the end of USC's run at an unprecedented third straight national championship may have come as a shock to most of its players and coaches, the way in which they finally lost shouldn't. That the streak survived as long as it did during this roller-coaster season should be the biggest surprise.
Many in the media anointed this Trojans team as one of, if not the greatest, college football team in history before the game. Anyone who has watched the program during Carroll's tenure at Southern California will tell you that this bunch was probably his most flawed of the past four teams to make a BCS bowl.
The offense may have been the most talented to ever set foot on a college football field -- being the first team in history to boast a 3,000-yard passer in Matt Leinart, two 1,000-yard tailbacks in Reggie Bush and LenDale White, and a 1,000-yard receiver in Dwayne Jarrett. The defense, however, was what proved to be the iceberg to the Trojans' titanic title hopes.
They were a bend-but-don't-break unit all season that finally shattered against Texas. They allowed five teams to gain more than 400 yards heading into the title game, including Fresno State, which hung 42 points on the Trojans at the Coliseum while ending its season on a four-game losing streak. So was it really shocking that Texas, which entered the game with the highest-scoring offense in the country, racked up 556 yards and 41 points?
Despite having four weeks to game-plan for Young, the Trojans looked almost helpless every time No. 10 tried to make a play, as Young ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns and passed for another 267, giving him a Rose Bowl record 467 total yards. "He's a beast," USC defensive end Frostee Rucker said of Young. "He did his thing tonight."
Notes on a Scorecard
After the game, a bare-footed Leinart walked over to the Texas locker room and embraced Young and Brown and congratulated them on the win. Leinart then hopped on a golf cart and was driven to the press conference tent outside the stadium. "I don't have any regrets," said Leinart. "This is what I wanted to do."
Some of the celebrities spotted during the game included Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell, Lance Armstrong, Henry Winkler, Wilmer Valderrama, Nick Lachey and Dr. Dre.
McConaughey, one of the few celebrities to finagle a field pass, offered up some Skoal chewing tobacco to Studdard after congratulating him on the win. "No, I'm good," Studdard said. "I don't need anything right now." McConaughey laughed and said, "I know. You just made history."
While it's a no-brainer that Bush will announce his intentions to enter the NFL Draft in the next few days, expect him to be joined by fellow juniors White, offensive lineman Winston Justice and safety Darnell Bing, all projected to go in the first round.