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
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.
January 12, 2004
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. --Phil Taylor