Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The last time the USC Trojans won the national championship…

3 Comments

In the years well before Alabama and Clemson surged to be the dominant programs of the college football world, and even before the SEC went on its dominate run of BCS championships, the USC Trojans made their case for being the last great college football program hailing from the Pac-12. The journey to a national championship that many considered to be somewhat stained to this day began after the 2000 season with the hiring of Pete Carroll, a coach who had run his brief course in the NFL as the head coach of the New England Patriots and last coached a college team in 1983 as a defensive coordinator for Pacific. The hiring may have raised some questions about how serious USC was restoring the program to its national championship-worthy caliber experienced under John Robinson in the late 1970s.

History shows now, those concerns were invalidated in retrospect.

Carroll went 6-6 with USC in his first season on the job at USC, but the groundwork for getting USC back to the top was already in progress. Among the first recruits signed by Carroll at USC was quarterback Matt Leinart in the Class of 2001. It didn’t take long for USC to rejuvenate the always rich recruiting efforts at USC, with players like Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Steve Smith and more coming in the Class of 2003. In his second season, Carroll coached USC to a record of 11-2 with a 38-17 victory over No. 3 Iowa. USC followed that season up with a 12-1 record in 2003 that was capped with a Rose Bowl victory over the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines to force a debate over who should have been crowned national champion. USC took the top spot in the final Associated Press poll, but the Trojans were prevented from playing in the BCS Championship Game, that year played in the Sugar Bowl. As a result, Nick Saban and LSU won the BCS national championship after LSU’s victory over Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

After missing out on a chance to play in the BCS championship game due to those silly computer equations, USC went on a mission to leave nothing to be calculated by a mathematical equation to determine their place in history. Labeled the preseason No. 1 in the AP poll, USC went on a historic season with one of the top offenses college football has seen in the modern era of the game. To this day, the USC offense is arguably one of the best that can stand on their own against the likes of the last great Miami Hurricanes team, the 1994 Penn State offense and even the top offenses of today. The season started with a 24-13 victory over Virginia Tech in the BCA Classic in Landover, Maryland, thus establishing their dominance in front of the east coast voters right out of the gates. A 23-17 victory over No. 7 California (a team featuring Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Marshawn Lynch at running back) was followed a week later by a 45-7 demolition of No. 15 Arizona State, with the Sun Devils entering the game at a clean 5-0.

There was little stopping USC from an inevitable run to a Pac-10 championship, although the Trojans had to overcome a minor scare from Oregon State on the road in early November and then pull away from crosstown rival UCLA in the regular-season finale to keep an unblemished record and a No. 1 ranking intact. Bush got the game started with a bang. Cue up that classic Keith Jackson play-by-play…

He’d break loose again later in the game. More Jackson, please…

And in doing so, USC got a chance to go toe-to-toe with the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl, the site of the BCS Championship Game at the end of the 2004 season. A battle of Heisman Trophy winners Leinart and Jason White (Oklahoma’s QB won the Heisman Trophy in 2003, Leinart in 2004) was a complete mismatch. The quest to leave no doubt was fulfilled by USC with a 55-19 dismantling of the Sooners, who had now gone a whole four years without winning a national title.

A total of 14 seasons have come and gone since USC’s blowout of the Sooners. If you have forgotten what was going on all that time ago, here’s a trip down memory lane just for you.

Last National Championship: 2004 (15 years and counting)

Who was President?

George W. Bush was wrapping up his first four-year term in the White House and preparing to win the 2004 Presidential Election. Bush won a much-less controversial presidential election over Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Current president Donald J. Trump saw his company, Trump’s Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, began going through bankruptcy restructuring in 2004. Trump also considered running for president in 2004 before backing off that idea, and he became engaged to Melanie Knauss (who is now known as First Lady Melania Trump).

What was on TV?

Speaking of Trump, he was dipping his toes in the world of reality-based competition on TV. With shows “American Idol” and “Survivor” bringing in massive ratings, Trump starred in the premiere episode of “The Apprentice,” in which contestants battled to win a job working for Trump. Among those contestants was the one and only Omarosa.

Another show with a cult following premiered in 2004 with “Lost.” in September.

What movies were hot?

Harry Potter was back in a big way in 2004 with the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The latest chapter in the Harry Potter film franchise scored $249.5 million at the box office in 2004 but that was only good for sixth on the box office standings that year. Shrek 2, the best of the series, was the No. 1 film of 2004, followed by Spider-Man 2, and The Passion of the Christ.

In 2004, the movie Mean Girls also introduced us to the idea of wearing pink on Wednesday and “fetch” and so much more.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Pittsburgh legend and Arizona Cardinals rookie Larry Fitzgerald graced the cover of NCAA Football 2005 for the Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox. The game featured a full lineup of FBS teams at the time and, just for good measure, included 70 FCS schools to help provide a little more reality to your fictional scheduling needs.

Fitzgerald was a unanimous All-American in 2003 and recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, Walter Camp Award and All-Big East honors. The Pitt icon went on to be the No. 3 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals, where he currently plays today as he is destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (he is not yet in the College Football Hall of Fame but should be a shoo-in for that as well).

Fitzgerald had 92 receptions for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns in the 2003 season for the Panthers.

What else happened in 2004?

Other conference champions in 2004 included Virginia Tech (ACC), Auburn (SEC), Utah (Mountain West), Louisville (Conference USA), and Toledo (MAC). Boise State went undefeated in the regular season to capture another WAC championship, but the Broncos were topped by Louisville, coached by Bobby Petrino, in the Liberty Bowl.

The Big East saw a mess at the top of the standings with Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia all ending in a tie for first place in the conference. What a time to be alive.

The Big Ten title was shared by Michigan and Iowa, which resulted in the Wolverines heading to the Rose Bowl to square off with Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns. With USC playing in the BCS Championship Game, the Rose Bowl got a chance to fill the Pac-12’s vacancy with Texas. Texas clipped Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards and the Wolverines with a last-second field goal for a 38-37 victory in Pasadena. Young rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns in the victory for Mack Brown. The following season, of course, would be a memorable one for the Longhorns at the expense of USC’s bid for back-to-back titles.

You may or may not remember who won the Super Bowl in January of 2004 (the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers), but you most certainly know about the halftime performance involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The Patriots would go on to win a second straight Super Bowl in the 2004 season with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Eagles would have to wait 13 years to get their revenge. During the regular season, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts threw an NFL record 49 touchdowns.

The Boston Red Sox ended their 86-year championship drought with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series after a miraculous comeback in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. Barry Bonds hit his 700th career home run during the regular season, joining Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Although, like USC’s BCS national title, that would go down in the record books with a controversial asterisk.

Keeping in line with controversial figures, Lance Armstrong won his sixth consecutive Tour de France.

Michael Phelps won eight medals at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, with six gold medals and two bronze, making him the first athlete to win eight medals at an Olympics not being boycotted. On the track, future icon Usain Bolt failed to qualify for the second round of the 200m dash. He finished fifth in his heat.

The Detroit Pistons were fresh off an NBA title in the summer of 2004 after topping the Los Angeles Lakers, in six games.

UConn became the first school to win a men’s and women’s basketball national championship in the same year.

Can the Trojans reign again?

USC’s run at the top of the college football world would get one more crack at a national championship in 2005, but as the balance of national title power shifted toward the SEC over the last years of the BCS era, USC’s grip on the national title race started to loosen. Carroll and the Trojans would go on to win three consecutive Rose Bowl games after their loss to Texas in the BCS National Championship Game in 2005, and they did it with records of 11-2 or 12-1. It just so happened USC would fall victim to the one bad loss knocking them behind the national championship pack each year. In 2006, it was a loss to UCLA in the regular-season finale. In 2007, it was a loss to Jim Harbaugh and Stanford that initially knocked USC off course. In 2008, it was Oregon State that upset No. 1 USC and the Trojans couldn’t quite make up the ground the rest of the way.

The Carroll era ended on a winning note in 2009 with a victory in the Emerald Bowl with a 9-4 record as the Trojans head coach moved back to the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. It also ended in controversy as USC was slapped with sanctions tied to Reggie Bush, which vacated Bush’s Heisman Trophy and the BCS national title from the 2004 season. Lane Kiffin was named the head coach of the Trojans, a job he held for three full seasons and was relieved of at the airport in the middle fo the 2013 season. Steve Sarkisian took on the job in 2014 and was let go in the midst of the 2015 season, leaving the job to Clay Helton. Helton coached the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in 2016 with Sam Darnold taking over at quarterback, but the promising 2017 season once again saw a couple of stumbles along the way to prevent USC from having a shot to compete in its first College Football Playoff. The season ended with a loss in the Cotton Bowl to Ohio State and was followed up last season with a 5-7 record, the first losing season for the Trojans since 2000, the year before the hiring of Carroll.

Although USC had a couple of strong years under Helton recently, the power of the Pac-12 has shifted more to Oregon and then Washington in the brief playoff era. Utah, a team in USC’s division, has named the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 this season. The pressure is on at USC to get things rolling again, especially after a rough 2018 season and a bumpy offseason. But the odds are USC will rise again in the future. How soon that happens remains to be seen as the Trojans look to end their current national title drought.

No. 7 Utah thumping UCLA in all phases at halftime of Pac-12 South showdown

Getty Images
1 Comment

In the past month or so of Pac-12 play, no team has been quite as dominant as No. 7 Utah has been. In the same span, no team has looked more improved than UCLA.

The two clashed on Saturday night in Salt Lake City and staged a rather interesting battle for the top of the Pac-12 South standings, with the Utes jumping out to a 28-3 halftime lead over the pesky Bruins in what is shaping up to be a defining game for both sides the rest of the month.

UCLA had their chances to make this far more interesting than the score would have indicated, having blown several opportunities inside their opponent’s 35 yard line (grand total of three points on four trips). Worst of all QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled while taking a sack, which Mika Taufa picked off the turf and rumbled 68 yards the other way. That turned a close game into a bit of a runaway in the final minutes of the second quarter and spoiled a solid initial effort for the Bruins offense that had nearly doubled (62 yards) the amount of yards rushing that the Utes normally allow for an entire game.

It took awhile for Utah’s offense to get warmed up just like their counterparts on the other side of the ball but when things started clicking, it was all coming downhill for the home squad. Tyler Huntley threw for 145 yards on just 11 attempts and scrambled for a touchdown run before the midway mark while tailback Zach Moss was already up 116 yards and two trips into the end zone on a robust 9.7 yards per carry (he also chipped in with two catches for 65 yards too).

This is a huge game for both sides and it will be interesting to see how each responds coming out of the locker room given how both are typically second half teams. UCLA is still fighting to get to a bowl game this season but will have their hands full trying to pull of another miraculous road rally in a chilly environment as Utah hopes to impress the CFP Selection Committee some more and tighten their grip on the division standings at the same time.

Appalachian State scores 28 straight points to lead Georgia State at halftime

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Looking for a game or two to keep on your Group of 5 radar this evening? No. 25 Appalachian State is leading Georgia State 35-21 in Atlanta as the Mountaineers hope to remain in the running for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup at the end of the year.

Georgia State got the scoring started after the defense came up tall with two consecutive three-and-outs. After being forced to punt after a three-and-out, Appalachian State recovered a Georgia State fumble on the punt return by Quavian White. But the Panthers forced a second straight three-and-out to force another punt. Dan Ellington completed a short touchdown pass to Devin Gentry at the end of an 84-yard drive for the 7-0 lead.

Appalachian State answered with Zac Thomas completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Corey Sutton, but big plays by the Panthers later in the first quarter would see Georgia State build a 21-7 lead. A 67-yard run by Destin Coates gave Georgia State the lead right back, and a Chris Bacon interception return for a touchdown off Thomas had the Panthers up two touchdowns. Thomas shrugged off the mistake and led the Mountaineers on a touchdown drive once they stepped back on the field. Another pass to Sutton was good for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 before the end of the first quarter.

The Mountaineers came back to tie things up at 21-21 with a Thomas touchdown run midway through the second quarter, and the defense gave the Mountaineers their first lead of the game when Shaun Jolley picked off a pass by Ellington and ran 30 yards the other way for the go-ahead touchdown.

We’ll see if Appalachian State can avoid taking its second loss of the season and remain in the driver’s seat for a spot in the first Sun Belt Conference championship game at the end of the year.

No. 13 Baylor takes huge lead over No. 10 Oklahoma to locker room

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Charlie Brewer has out Jalen Hurts-ed Jalen Hurts, making plays with his arm and his feet, while Hurts has committed two turnovers that led to two Baylor touchdowns. As a result, No. 13 Baylor holds a stunning 31-10 lead over No. 10 Oklahoma at the half in Waco.

Oklahoma forced a Baylor punt to open the game and, taking over at their own 47, quickly moved into the red zone, but Jalen Hurts was sacked on a 3rd-and-5 and the Sooners settled for a 39-yard Gabe Brkic field goal.

Charlie Brewer had Denzel Mims streaking wide open for what would have been a 78-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive, but skipped the ball to him. It didn’t matter. He hit Mims for 11 yards on the next snap, kicking off a 78-yard touchdown drive that Brewer himself capped with a 2-yard keeper.

After forcing one of the rarer sights in college football — an Oklahoma three-and-out — Baylor went up 14-3 on a 30-yard connection that missed earlier, as Mims got about as open as a receiver can get on a 30-yard fade route.

Facing an uncharacteristic 14-3 deficit, Oklahoma added to its own misery with a pair of Hurts turnovers. The first came deep in his own territory, when the quarterback placed the ball on the ground in an attempt to steady himself and simply lost the ball, which Terrel Bernard recovered for Baylor at the OU 27. Brewer kept for 23 yards on the final play of the first quarter, then added the final four on the first snap of the second.

On Oklahoma’s next possession, the Sooners reached the Baylor 36 when Grayland Arnold stepped in front of a Hurts pass and returned it 71 yards to the OU 9, where he was finally tackled by Hurts himself. A second Brewer-to-Mims scoring strike put Baylor up 28-3 at the 11:02 mark of the second quarter, and putting the Sooners on the wrong end of a 48-3 run dating back to the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game.

Oklahoma finally stopped the bleeding with an un-OU like 14-play, 75-yard, near 6-minute drive, one that was extended when a 4th-and-5 incompletion at the Bears’ 33 was wiped away due to defensive holding by Baylor’s Jameson Houston. Hurts’ 5-yard pass to Austin Stogner made the score 28-10 with 5:06 left in the first half. He closed the half 8-of-14 for 80 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing 12 times for 26 yards with a fumble.

Baylor answered the Sooners’ prolonged drive with one of its own, moving 61 yards in 13 plays, but stalling at the the OU 11 as the Bears settled for a 28-yard John Mayers field goal with three seconds left before halftime.

Brewer finished the half 13-of-18 for 140 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 14 times for a game-high 77 yards and two more scores.

OU will receive to open the second half.

New Mexico State, Rice win; Akron now lone remaining winless FBS team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

And then there was one.

Heading into Week 12, New Mexico State and Rice were two of three winless teams at the FBS level.  Playing FCS Incarnate Word at home, NMSU cruised to a 41-28ricericrice win to secure its first “W” of the season; heading east to Murfreesboro, Rice hung 31 points on Middle Tennessee State in the first half and then hung on in the second for a tight 31-28 win.

The Aggies’ win snapped an 11-game losing streak — they have still lost 14 straight to FBS teams — while the Owls, who came in as 14-point underdogs, had lost nine in a row prior to today.

So, with those twin wins, it leaves Akron as the lone FBS that has yet to win a game this season — and, based on past performance and future opponents, there’s no win in sight.

Akron has played 10 games this season, and, obviously, lost them all.  The closest they’ve come to a non-defeat?  An eight-point loss to a UMass team that’s 1-10 on the season.  The other nine games, they’ve lost by a combined score of 326-77.

For Week 13, Akron has drawn Miami (OH), which is one win away from winning the MAC East.  The following week, they get a 4-6 Ohio team that has beaten them 10 of the last 11 times they’ve played.

So, yeah, good luck Zips.