Imagine there's no BCS. It's easy if you try. In a perfect world coaches Nick Saban of LSU and Pete Carroll of USC wouldn't have been chatting so amiably with reporters—Saban in post- Sugar Bowl interviews and Carroll on a conference call—late Sunday night. They would have been itching to begin analyzing tape of each other's team for next week's national championship game, and both coaches would probably have been up into the wee hours contemplating the sizable challenges their opponent presented.
Carroll and offensive coordinator Norm Chow would no doubt have studied the array of blitzes the Tigers used to harass Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in LSU's 21-14 Sugar Bowl victory. Like White, Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart is no scrambler, so USC would have to rely on Leinart's ability to get rid of the ball in a hurry, which could cause problems for the Tigers. " Mike Williams runs the quick slant as well as any receiver in the country," says Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "If you blitz USC you better hit it, otherwise Williams is going to burn you." LSU has swift, tough defensive backs in Corey Webster and Travis Daniels, but against Oklahoma they didn't have to contain anyone as big and fast as the 6'5" Williams.
The Trojans have plenty of other weapons, including Williams's pass-catching partner, Keary Colbert, and they would give the Tigers more problems than Oklahoma's offense did. USC, with its tailback trio of Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Hershel Dennis, would run the ball at least often enough to slow the LSU pass rush.
Saban wouldn't need to spend much time studying the Trojans' performance in their 28-14 Rose Bowl win over Michigan to recognize that USC's defense isn't the finesse group it has been reputed to be. The Trojans racked up nine sacks against a Wolverines offensive line that had allowed only 15 all season and limited running back Chris Perry to 85 yards. USC would be hard-pressed to corral LSU's nimble quarterback, Matt Mauck, so often, and receiver Michael Clayton would have his moments against the Trojans' secondary, but it's not hard to envision the Tigers' offense stalling out the way it did in the second half of the Sugar Bowl. "LSU isn't flashy on offense, it is efficient," says Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team lost to the Tigers 34-13 in the SEC Championship Game. Against USC efficient probably wouldn't be good enough.
But what Saban would see on the USC tape might not be as important as what he wouldn't see. He wouldn't find the same shell-shocked look in the eyes of the Trojans that Oklahoma seemed to have in the Sugar Bowl. USC looked like a team that was just hitting its stride in the Rose Bowl. Another week would probably bring them another win, even against as formidable a foe as the Tigers. In the end we're going with the Trojans. Final score: USC 19, LSU 13.