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Douglas S. Looney
September 03, 1990
For USC quaterback Todd Marinovich, fame and talent may not be enough to see him safely through
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September 03, 1990

The Minefield

For USC quaterback Todd Marinovich, fame and talent may not be enough to see him safely through

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5) Against Oregon State, Marinovich lit it up again, 14 of 18. Asked about his performance, he shakes his head. "I can't remember anything about that game," he says. USC won 48-6. But it's no wonder. Beating Oregon State is not a mountaintop experience for the Trojans. Beaver coach Dave Kragthorpe remembers Marinovich as a "poised, calm, collected quarterback who didn't play at all like a freshman."

Caveat: Yes, but it was Oregon State. And wasn't USC's defense great?

6) In the Rose Bowl, against Michigan, Marinovich threw an early interception. But he pulled himself together, connected on 22 of 31 passes and took the Trojans on a 75-yard game-winning drive, starting with 5:15 left. Three times he was in third-down situations, and he covered them all. He was calm, he was cool, he was determined, he was intense, he was smart, he was brilliant. The Trojans won, 17-10.

Caveat: Yes, but Michigan under former coach Bo Schembechler has been traditionally awful in the Rose Bowl (Bo's record: 2-8), hampered by poor preparation matched by poorer execution. Besides, this was not a great Wolverine team; West Coast speed often dominates teams from the Midwest; and the game had no serious impact on the national rankings.

See, Todd Marinovich just can't be good enough. Every time he's great, there is a body of thought that a) he should be greater, or b) lots of people could have done what he did because his teammates were so good. And all too often people are inclined to focus on the dark side. Illinois, for example. And UCLA. That game ended in a 10-10 tie with a pitiful Bruin team (3-7-1), Westwood's worst in years. Marinovich was awful, throwing three interceptions and looking every inch a freshman—a high school freshman. With that debacle on his mind, it's no wonder Marinovich says, "When people tell me how well I'm doing, I can't hear it enough. That's because there have been times when I wished I could have heard it more."

Still, Marinovich could be heading for big-time trouble this fall. The Trojans are not the team they were last year when they went 9-2-1, were eight points from being undefeated and untied, won the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl, had the nation's No. 1 defense against the rush (66.3 yards per game) and were second in total defense (238.4 yards). Only seven starters return this fall, the fewest for USC since the school started two-platoon football in 1965.

With nonconference games against Syracuse, Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame on USC's schedule, the potential for disaster is real. Should losses mount, guess who will get the blame. Should the Trojans rise up and have a huge season, it's clear what people will say: A bunch of young guys in the offensive line, defensive line and secondary grew up in a hurry. But what about Marinovich? Naturally, the answer will be: "He was O.K. But we need a lot of improvement out of him. Quarterback is our key problem area."

This lack of confidence could send Marinovich to the pros early. "It's hard not to [go]," he says, "when people start flashing that kind of money at you." He has pro-style vision, throws the fades and deep routes well, and gets velocity on balls into the flat. Marinovich has a first-rate five-step drop but needs to pick up another couple of steps back for the pros, while learning to throw better on the run. Another indication that he might not stay at USC for the full term is that, as his 2.23 grade point average attests, he has little interest in being a student. Says Marinovich, "One of the first things the older guys laid on me when I got here was that C's get degrees, and sometimes D's." Says Smith, "His biggest academic weakness is getting up."

That's a problem. Or a hint. Because while Marv gets intense waiting for a traffic light to change, Todd gets intense about nothing. Could he be short in want-to? "When I was younger, I envisioned playing forever," he says. "But after only two years of college football, I have taken such a beating that now I know I will play just long enough in the pros." Which is how long? "Maybe four years."

Whither Todd Marinovich?

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