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USC opponents feel measure of vindication with NCAA punishment


When the NCAA vacates wins as it did Thursday to the USC football program, the results for those games are changed to losses for the Trojans but not to victories for their opponents.

In other words, the games in 2004 and 2005 that Reggie Bush played in after he and his family compromised his amateurism by taking money and other inducements from fledgling sports agents, have no winners, just two losers.

Despite that contradiction, Jacob Hucko felt like a winner Thursday after receiving the news of the sanctions against USC. Hucko was an offensive lineman for the Ducks in 2005 when USC beat Oregon, a Trojans victory that is now vacated.

"You feel vindicated in a little way," he says. "Look, they still beat us on the field. That doesn't change. But for the players in those games, players like me who were just scrapping by on our $1,000 stipend while Reggie Bush was living the dream, it feels good to know the truth is out there.

"At Oregon, we have this setup where nobody breaks NCAA rules. At USC, they didn't do it the right way, and maybe a lot of opposing players always suspected that, but to have it out there in the open is important."

Hucko grew up in Southern California and his father was a UCLA fan, so he makes no bones about his hatred for the Trojans. When he reads about former USC linebacker Brian Cushing, who is now with the Houston Texans, testing positive for a banned substance, and about the actions of Bush and others in the Trojans' athletic department, he feels the curtain has been pulled back on the Trojans' success over the past decade

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"There was a culture of cheating there. It was there with Pete Carroll. He knew. (Carroll has denied any knowledge of cheating.) That was why he booked it for Seattle."

In conversations with former teammates Thursday, Hucko realized that the 2005 Oregon team now occupies a unique place in college football history. The Ducks' only regular-season loss that year was to USC and their only other defeat was to Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl. All of Oklahoma's victories from 2005 were vacated a few years ago after it was discovered that Sooners players, including Oklahoma's starting quarterback, violated NCAA rules by taking money for a no-show job at a car dealership.

That means that, technically, no one beat the Ducks in 2005. OU's wins were later reinstated, but Hucko said: "I'll be waiting for my National Championship ring to come in the mail."

Another school that could have staked claim to a spot in the BCS title game had they not lost to Bush and USC in 2005 was Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish fell to the Trojans 34-31, a game that ended on a play known as the "Bush Push" -- Bush pushed quarterback Matt Leinart over the goal line for the winning score. ND finished the regular season 10-2 and went to the Fiesta Bowl.

"Look, I am not going to start walking around and telling people we didn't lose that game, but at least in the record book it won't go down as victory for USC," says Pat Kuntz, a defensive lineman for Notre Dame in 2005. "They broke the rules and that takes away the honor and respect people have for college football. We lost a lot of games when I was at Notre Dame, but no matter what I know we played within the rules."

Kuntz, like Hucko, hopes that USC's disgrace sets the program back a few years.

"Whether USC stays on top or not is going to come down to recruits," he says. "It will come down to whether players want to go to a school that is in an awesome place but that has cheating all around it. Or, do they want to got to a school that maybe isn't in the spotlight as much but does things the right way."