Like usual, Carroll's Trojans saved their best for last
Thursday's rout marked USC's sixth win in seven BCS games under Carroll
Ultimately, the '08 Trojans will be remembered for fielding an unbelievable D
Once again, USC has teased its fans with another exercise in "What if?"
PASADENA, Calif. -- At long last, we've uncovered the real reason BCS officials are so reticent to stage a college football playoff.
If they did, USC might win it every year.
"With all due respect to [Oklahoma and Florida]," Trojans coach Pete Carroll said after his fifth-ranked team's 38-24 Rose Bowl dismantling of No. 6 Penn State on Thursday. "... I don't think anybody can beat us."
Carroll's team may slip up a time or two during the regular-season, as it did on that fateful Thursday night at Oregon State, but nobody dominates January as consistently as the Trojans. Thursday's rout marked USC's sixth win in seven BCS games under Carroll, all of them blowouts and all of them following nearly the exact same script:
1) USC teases its overmatched opponent into thinking it has a chance. (The score was tied 7-7 after the first quarter). For previous examples, see the 2007 Rose Bowl against Michigan (3-3 at halftime) and the 2005 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma (7-7 with seven seconds left in the first quarter).
2) The Trojans suddenly remember who they are and unleash a relentless blitzkrieg like Thursday's 24-point second quarter (as many points as the Nittany Lions had allowed in a game all season) to go up 31-7. See: their 16 straight third-quarter points to put away the Wolverines and their 48-3 outburst against the Sooners.
3) USC's quarterback and receivers -- in this case junior QB Mark Sanchez and sophomores receivers Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson -- turn the stadium into their own personal playground.
Like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and John David Booty before him, Sanchez shredded Penn State's fifth-ranked defense to the tune of 28-of-35 passing for a career-high 413 yards and four touchdowns. Like Mike Williams, Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett before them, former Arkansas transfer Williams (who had not previously posted a 100-yard game) caught 10 passes for 162 yards while Johnson (who had just 488 yards on the season) caught touchdown passes of 19 and 45 yards.
"A 4-foot-10 guy could have caught some of the passes Mark was throwing," said Penn State cornerback Lydell Sargeant. "It's the best I've seen Mark play out of all the games he played this year."
For the third straight year, USC (12-1) saved one of its sharpest, most thorough performances of the season for the Rose Bowl, sending yet another dazed Big Ten foe back east feeling far humbler than when it arrived and cruelly teasing its fans with another exercise in "What if?"
What if the Trojans' otherwise impregnable defense hadn't gotten Jacquizzed in Corvallis? What if the media hadn't written off the entire Pac-10 (which, if you hadn't noticed, finished its bowl season 5-0) by late September, thus turning the Trojans into an afterthought in any BCS conversation? What if USC's previously inconsistent offense had more frequently played the way it did Thursday so as to wow the voters with more "style points?"
The well-oiled machine on display here Thursday sure looked capable of beating Florida, Oklahoma or any other opponent one might care to throw its way -- particularly given Carroll's track record of preparedness for these postseason contests. Only a Herculean performance by Texas QB Vince Young three years ago has stood in the way of the Trojans achieving BCS immortality.
"We've been this way a lot of times at the end of the season," said Carroll. "This is a terrific finishing program, and right now there are so many things we can do, as you saw tonight. We can play D, we can throw the football if we have to, we can run the ball. ... [Oklahoma and Florida] have earned every bit of it, they're fantastic teams and well coached. I just wish we could keep playing."
Instead, USC will have to make do with yet another Rose Bowl trophy, its fourth 12-win season in the past six years (in the other two, they won a measly 11) and the knowledge that nearly half their starting lineup will likely be signing seven-figure NFL contracts this spring.
The big question following his masterful performance Thursday night is whether Sanchez, who has a year of eligibility remaining, will be one of them.
"I'm going to celebrate this victory first and worry about it somewhere down the line," said the fourth-year junior, who has been receiving draft information from Carroll's NFL contacts for some time. "I'm telling you right now, it's going to be hard to say goodbye to this place. I don't know if I can do it."