SC revives rivalry with Penn State begun in 1923 Rose Bowl
The University of Southern California may be derided as "Yesterday U." by its many detractors, but one thing the Trojans' have never stopped doing is accept challenges. Lately, they are up to their elbows in alligators with them. First, the opportunity to play a 12-game regular season schedule popped up, only the twelfth game is not a vacation trip to Hawaii, it is a mano a mano match-up against Penn State, giving legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno virtually the whole month to prepare a game plan for SC. Nice. That game will be played on Sunday, August 27 at The Meadowlands in New Jersey. On top of everything, Paterno is trying to break Bear Bryant's all-times wins record this season.
"Am I crazy?" Trojan coach Paul Hackett asked rhetorically, when asked about accepting such a game. "Probably."
SC does not play Penn State every year, but they have played them a few times. Like in 1923, for instance, when the Easterners traveled to Pasadena to play the very first Rose Bowl game at the then-brand new facility. USC thumped them, 14-3, picking up where Cal's "Wonder Teams" left off, and establishing West Coast football as a force to be reckoned with.
(Stanford, under the stewardship of Pop Warner and led by the great Ernie Nevers, hosted Notre Dame in the 1925 Rose Bowl, around the time that the SC-Notre Dame rivalry began. We all know what happened after that.)
Tradition might be a dirty word in today's dot.com, give-it-to-me-now world, but for those of us who respect a little bit of history, USC football is still something to stir the memories. Playing Penn State reminds one of legendary former line coach Marv Goux, who used to remark of such contests that they pitted "Big man on big man. The Best of the West vs. the Best of the East."
In honoring the traditional theme of East vs. West, Southern Cal recently picked up where cross-town rival UCLA failed miserably when given half a chance to accept a challenge. Kansas State, an emerging national power, found itself with unexpected open dates on their 2001 and 2002 schedules. They went to UCLA and wanted to know if the Bruins' wanted to set up a home-and-home arrangement.
UCLA begged out, because the Wildcats are too tough.
Kansas State then took their offer to Southern Cal. Southern Cal will play them at the Coliseum in 2001 and in Manhattan (Kansas, that is) in 2002.
Does this really require commentary? Didn't think so. Some things just are what they are!
The Trojans enter the 2000 season ranked number 15 in the AP, number 16 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, but as high as ninth by The Sporting News. Penn State finds itself rebuilding and ranked a little lower, but probably because Paterno is so dangerous when given time to prepare for an opponent, the Lions' have been installed as three and half-point favorites in the early betting line.
Penn State enters under a cloud of controversy. Quarterback Rashard Casey (who is black) is alleged to have been in a bar earlier this year when a when a white policeman entered the bar with a black girl. Casey is said to have taken exception, saying the black girl should not be with a white guy, and in the ensuing argument he is said to have assaulted and seriously injured the policemen (who was not on duty).
Paterno has decided to play him anyway, pending results of the investigation and possible trial. He has taken a lot of heat (notably from national media voice Jim Rome), but the word is that Paterno sat Casey down, talked it out, and is said to believe, or at least understand, Casey's side of the story. In most cases, the coach would not be believed under these circumstances, but Paterno has a long history of honesty and integrity, so in this situation one can give him (and Casey) the benefit of the doubt.
Palmer will be showcased
It is time for 6-5, 220-pound sophomore quarterback Carson Palmer to step up and be the star everyone has predicted he would be, from the time of his prep All-American career at Santa Margarita High School, to his freshman year in 1998, when he showed great promise. Injured almost all of 1999, he will have the chance to show the nation what kind of player he is. After sitting on the sidelines for so long, Palmer has a new view of things.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "Sitting out for as long as I did gave me a new perspective on football. It made me realize you can't take it for granted. You can't just come out here and go through the motions. Sitting on the sidelines all the time made me understand that you have to use every day in practice to get better.
"I used to complain about doing certain drills in practice. I wouldn't always look forward to doing the hard work. When football was taken away from me, I learned something. I learned that football means everything to me. I learned that I missed every practice, every drill. I missed hurting from working my hardest."
Palmer will be looking for 1999 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Kareem Kelly, his favorite target at wide receiver, and it is said that Penn State's secondary has some weaknesses for him to exploit. Still, defense and ball control will be the key for USC in 2000. If Palmer throws for 350 yards a game, that may mean the team needs to score because they are giving up a lot of points, and/or the running game is bogged down.
First, the defense is reputed to be one of the best in the country, despite the absence of All-American candidate Antuan Simmons at cornerback. He is recovering from the removal of a non-malignant stomach tumor. The running game is still in question. Sultan McCullough and Malaefou MacKenzie are still competing (with Petros Papadakis) for the starting job, and Hackett is looking for somebody to "take the position and choke it." One thing McCullough in particular has, is speed, a trend that runs throughout the whole squad. Like John McKay's old powerhouses, the Trojans' have been recruited first for speed and athleticism, and any coach will tell you these are great equalizers.
Getting back to Palmer, he and and Hackett will be happier seeing him throw 25-30 times a contest, while McCullough (or somebody) runs for 100-130 yards, the defense plays its part, and the team controls their games from the line of scrimmage, quarter by quarter. If this happens, and the team wins and contends for the Rose or Orange Bowl, then Palmer will be in line for more national honors than he would be throwing a lot of yards for a mediocre team.
The stars are aligned just right for USC this year, and their legions of fans are as hopeful as they have been in years. However, another interesting thing has developed at Troy. While their pigskin hopes are high, this is not just a "football school" anymore. There was a time when a student could get in to USC if they could afford the tuition, leading to the oft-overused moniker "University of Spoiled Children." Not anymore.
Named School of the Year in the latest Princteon Review/Time survey, SC has broken into an elite group of American academic institutions. Equally impressive is the classroom performance of its football team. Once a "factory" that produced few degree-holders, their graduation rate is now 80 percent, and will be 82 percent in 2001. Quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst is pursuing the arduous MBA program playing his senior year, after having worked in the law office of another Trojan scholar/quarterback, Pat Haden (1972-74).
Win or lose, Hackett has accomplished one of the real goals of any truly great football program, and should be commended.
Now, if they can just beat Notre Dame, UCLA, win a bowl game, go undefeated and capture the National Championship, we will all be happy!
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism