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Trojans: Title bound

Championship still on USC’s mind

Posted: October 6, 2008 8:32 p.m.
Updated: December 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez prepares to take the snap against Ohio State on Sept. 13.

 

Burrowing through reporters, standing next to 300-pound lineman, the smell of sweat and wet grass, hearing the roar of 82,000 fans, the looks of exhaustion and relief.

After celebrating the win on the field with players and the rest of the Trojan family, I was left asking myself - can USC capture another national championship title?

If Saturday's 44-10 win over Oregon is any indication then perhaps there is a chance.

Head coach Pete Carroll said he is still upset about the loss to Oregon State, the weight of that game still sits on his shoulders, and well it should. It might have cost USC a national championship.

"We just weren't right," Carroll said during Saturday's press conference. "We didn't handle it well. I will forever be frustrated and bitter about my effort. I love this win tonight but I'm still pissed to tell you the truth."

Characteristically, one-loss teams in the Pac-10 aren't likely to make it to the national title game.

There's always the lingering belief that the Pac-10 isn't as strong as other conferences, so the Trojans will have to get help from the polls and teams in the SEC and Big 12, especially.

All the other teams ranked higher than USC will have to lose to lower rated teams and SC will have to run the table.

This is no easy task, however, since the team's last three games are against Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA.

After Saturday's victory, Carroll and quarterback Mark Sanchez said the win was exactly what they needed. It was the game they were looking for. Sanchez finished the contest throwing over 300 yards and was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week, his third such honor this season.

He is currently ranked No. 14 nationally in passing efficiency (162.9, second in Pac-10).

In a conversation I had with a friend prior to attending Saturday's game, I was told that Sanchez was overrated.

I have to say that even if he is overrated in the eyes of some, being the starting quarterback of the USC program speaks for itself.

Sanchez, described by the head coach as a great deep ball thrower, is still in his junior year and Carroll is known to develop top quarterbacks - see Carson Palmer's and Matt Leinart's Heisman trophies for details.

In the same token, Sanchez is surrounded by powerful offensive weapons. The soul of SC's offense isn't completely on Sanchez's shoulders.

The Trojans have also always had a rich tradition of talented tailbacks and a deep corps of receivers.

Add to that the list of solid linebackers and lineman.

On Friday night the team met with former players as well as the rest of their coaching staff, and discussed what it has meant over the years to play at the Coliseum, particularly over the last seven seasons with Carroll at the helm.

Carroll said that past teams have found a level of play that has been special and he was concerned that this team may not figure it out; what it means to be a part of the prestigious program that is USC.

According to Carroll, when the team took the field Saturday, there was a teachable moment that was captured.

They knew the importance of upholding the tradition as all phases of the team came together against Oregon.

Carroll said the win is an accomplishment that the Trojans need to learn and grow from.

"This was a big moment for us," Carroll said. "We have to do this properly each week and we understand what it means when we don't. Now we build from this and hopefully it will help us down the road."

USC has posted six consecutive seasons of AP top four finishes, BCS bowl trips, Pac-10 titles and 11 wins.

Can college's most winning active coach hold another trophy in his hands at the end of the season?

Possibly, but to do so Carroll said there is an aspect of preparation that is critical; the mental aspect of the game.

"That's what brings you to the level that you are capable of playing. You have to bring it all; it's not automatic."

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