NCF Nation: USC Trojans
LOS ANGELES -- Saturday night, the USC defense played like a group that had been marinating in mistakes for the last 14 days. That's 336 hours to ponder the 452 rushing yards they surrendered to Boston College. That's 20,160 minutes to mire in the misery of the 506 total yards and 37 points they yielded at Chestnut Hill.
Nothing will take that loss off of the standings. Instead, it serves as a reminder of how disastrous things can turn when the Trojans don't play to their potential.
"This team needed to get punched in the face," said linebacker Hayes Pullard, who sat the first half of the BC game for an illegal hit the week before against Stanford. "I hate to say that. But because of that we're bouncing back and growing as a team."
Following a bye last week, this group was eager to show the Sept. 13 performance wasn't the norm. And they stifled the Oregon State offense and its strong-armed quarterback en route to a 35-10 home win.
The USC defense held Oregon State to just three offensive points (its only touchdown coming on special teams), 58 yards rushing and 181 total offensive yards. They sacked Sean Mannion twice, intercepted him twice and forced him into the worst statistical performance of his career -- which included a 14.6 adjusted QBR.
"I'm proud of these guys after what they had to hear about for the last week," said USC coach Steve Sarkisian.
If Sept. 13 was the burn, then film session the next morning was the frosty reminder of all that had gone wrong.
Said Pullard: "We didn't want to see it. But we had to. That's the thing about football. You have to tell the truth on Sundays."
Added defensive lineman Leonard Williams: "Everybody was just down."
Noted safety Su'a Cravens: "It was tough watching plays that we should have made not being made. It was tough messing up assignments [even though] we went over it 100 times in practice. But we still messed it up."
Cravens turned in a phenomenal performance Saturday, posting a team high six tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter to break the early scoreless tie.
"Nobody likes losing," Cravens said. "And the way we lost, that's not SC ball. We got back to the basics and what we needed to do. That attitude of being hungry and dominant on the field came back. That attitude we had against Fresno State came back. It showed [Saturday]."
The Trojans are hoping it sticks around for a while. They have back-to-back games against the Arizona schools -- at home against ASU this week and at Tucson a week later. Both of those teams rank in the top 20 in scoring nationally.
Whether ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who sat out last week's game against UCLA with a foot injury, plays is still to be determined. Early reports are that his return this week is questionable.
Recall last year that it was the ASU game in Tempe that ultimately cost USC coach Lane Kiffin his job after the Trojans were blasted 62-41. The fallout sparked Kiffin's firing, Ed Orgeron's promotion, his quitting, Clay Helton's promotion and eventually Sarkisian's hiring.
USC's run defense will be tested by ASU's D.J. Foster, who leads the league in rushing with an average of 135 yards per game. The pass defense, however, is feeling pretty good about itself. Through four games and five weeks, the Trojans are the only team in the country that hasn't allowed a touchdown through the air.
"We were talking about that earlier in the week," Cravens said. "I think the coaches are doing a great of calling the right plays at the right time, and everyone is executing. I'm really proud of the DBs."
That program is 37-18 (.673) in the four-plus seasons since he left, which isn't bad for many teams, particularly when operating with scholarship reductions. But this is USC, and Carroll went 97-19 (.836) in nine years. He won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships. The program he led to 34 consecutive victories during a remarkable span of dominance, however, is coming off an enfeebled effort at Boston College. While those NCAA sanctions will no longer yoke the program going forward, they are still being painfully felt, see a scant 61 scholarship players available Saturday against Oregon State.
USC fans are going to cheer for Carroll in absentia on Saturday, as well they should. But for some there will be a tangle of competing feelings, which are aggravated by the uncertain present and future of the program.
Very few fame narratives are straight lines in our culture. While college football isn't Hollywood or national politics in terms of a Pavlovian response to scandal, you can't name too many coaches who posted careers without well-reported embarrassments, particularly over the past two decades when media coverage expanded exponentially. At least, not too many successful ones.
While the totality of their work on the field and general consensus about their overall character often wins out over the longterm for their lasting public perception, a legitimate evaluation can't ignore the ugly events that happened under their watch. So it is with Carroll.
He took over a foundering national power that went 19-18 over the three seasons before he arrived and built a dynasty. He went 6-1 in BCS bowl games. The Trojans also were crushed by NCAA sanctions for extra benefits Reggie Bush and his parents received when Carroll was head coach. More than a few outsiders, as well as a few insiders, believe Carroll dashed for the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 after spurning previous NFL entreaties because he wanted to get out while the getting was good.
There were other reasons that might have motivated him to leave, other than the NCAA. It shouldn't be omitted that Carroll bolted after his worst season since 2001, his first at USC. The Trojans had lost three of their final six games in 2009, including the humiliating 55-21 "What's your deal?" defeat to Jim Harbaugh and Stanford. His last game was an Emerald Bowl victory over Boston College -- no irony intended -- and the Trojans finished 9-4 overall.
There were whispers that his magic was gone, a not entirely unpopular take with opposing coaches. Carroll had started to miss on some recruits, and others who had sign ended up becoming highly rated busts.
Carroll has repeatedly and adamantly denied he left because he was worried about the direction at USC or impending NCAA sanctions. In fact, this summer he told the Los Angeles Times that he wouldn't have left the Trojans, even for a five-year contract worth about $35 million and near total control over personnel decisions, if he'd known how severe the sanctions would be.
That's an eyebrow-raising assertion that can't be measured for factuality, so you can choose to believe it or not. While there are many, many coaches more predisposed to spout bull manure than Carroll, he has always been media savvy and is not above a little gamesmanship during interviews. He knows saying that might score him some points with USC fans. It is, however, just words.
Of course, what he produced on the field is his truest measure, at least for how we, the observing class, evaluate his professional output. His hiring in December 2000 was widely mocked as bumbling athletic director Mike Garrett settling for his fourth choice. A lot of pundits wondered if his "Win Forever!" shtick would work in the NFL, where he'd previously failed, when the Seahawks gave him a big and blank check. He's proven two sets of naysayers wrong, joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win a Super Bowl and a college national championship.
He's even won the PR battle with the NCAA. The overwhelming consensus now is the 2010 sanctions against USC were unfair, even borderline corrupt. That ruling, in fact, might even be viewed as a Point A for the NCAA's recent decline into a feckless body that can neither govern effectively nor enforce rules. With Ohio State, North Carolina, Miami and Penn State seemingly being far worse transgressors of rules and decorum in recent years than USC under Carroll -- Head coaches lying! Academic fraud! A booster running amuck! A child molester on staff! -- the Bush ruling has become more of a negative reflection on the NCAA than Carroll.
In 2000, Carroll was a coaching afterthought. Nearly 14 years later, he's persevered into rarefied air, where he merits consideration for greatness.
USC fans are going to cheer when Carroll's name is announced and remember him fondly on Saturday, as well they should. It's also probably time for the conflicted to untangle their feelings about the man.
The plot certainly thickened in the Pac-12's South Division on Saturday, but not necessarily in a good way.
A week after posting a gritty upset at Stanford, USC was humiliated at Boston College, while UCLA cobbled together a win over Texas behind scrappy, ebullient backup QB Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel's services were required because Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury. His status remains uncertain, though there was reasonable hope based on initial reports that his injury wasn't serious.
The UCLA-Arizona State game was one we eyeballed in the preseason as a major measuring stick in the battle for the South. A significant part of the appeal was the quarterback battle. That hasn't changed, only now the intrigue is whether it will be Neuheisel for UCLA and Mike Bercovici for Arizona State. A week ago, that quarterback news would have heavily favored the Sun Devils. While Bercovici isn't the runner Kelly is, he's got one of the best arms in the conference and is well-versed in the Sun Devils offense. He is expected to win the starting job as a fifth-year senior next fall. Neuheisel was widely viewed as a career backup with a well-known father -- former UCLA QB and coach Rick Neuheisel -- but his second-half performance against the Longhorns suggested he can be more than a rudimentary game manager.
Both teams have an off week, when they can either get healthy or retool their plans. The stakes continue to be high, perhaps more so after USC threw up on itself with a wet-noodle performance at Boston College. While a nonconference game doesn't affect the Trojans' Pac-12 standing, it certainly made them look extremely vulnerable heading into a much-needed bye week. Other than USC fans, the most miserable folks watching that game surely root for Stanford, which probably can't believe it lost to the Trojans just a week before.
What this implosion and these injuries reveal in a wider sense is vulnerability in the South. In the preseason, UCLA looked like a decisive South favorite. Then USC made a statement with a win over the Cardinal. Arizona State was lurking with a great offense and a questionable defense. At this point, however, none of these three teams is scaring anyone. And don't look now, but Arizona and Utah remain unbeaten and have shown flashes that suggest they might be factors in a divisional race that previously seemed limited to the aforementioned troika.
The Wildcats play host to California on Saturday. Lo and behold, the Bears also are unbeaten, and this game suddenly possesses some potential meaning it didn't seem to have in the preseason. If Cal gets the upset, it can fully erase last season's misery and start thinking bowl game. If Arizona gets the win, it will be 4-0 and eyeballing the Top 25 with a visit to No. 2 Oregon looming on Thursday, Oct. 2.
Arizona appears suspect on defense, but the offense, with impressive redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, a good O-line, deep corps of receivers and breakout freshman running back Nick Wilson, will make the Wildcats a threat to any foe.
Utah visits Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines don't look like they'll be hailing in much victory this season, a Utes win would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. While Utah's trouble hasn't been in nonconference games since joining the Pac-12, a 3-0 start would hint they are not a South afterthought, particularly if the offense continues to shine with QB Travis Wilson.
While Oregon's win over Michigan State coupled with Stanford's loss to USC only boosted the Ducks' status as North Division favorites, the South intrigue has seemingly spiderwebbed since the beginning of the season. The race appears more wide open and complicated. UCLA's visit to Arizona State remains a major measuring stick, but it's just as likely either team would sacrifice that game -- as horrible as that sounds -- to know it will get its starting quarterback back healthy for the rest of the season.
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- This is not the way the No. 9 team in the nation is supposed to lose. This is not the way the Glamour Guys from USC go down. This is not the team that should be beating the Trojans, with their Hollywood profile and grand tradition.
The USC locker room is filled with four- and five-star recruits. And then there’s the Boston College locker room, a sweatier, and -- early Sunday morning -- happier version of the Island of Misfit Toys.
Quarterback Tyler Murphy is a fifth-year refugee from Florida. Two of the running backs, Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse, haven’t made it to 5-foot-10 yet, and both of them tower over 5-6 freshman Sherman Alston, whose 54-yard misdirection touchdown run late in the first half gave the Eagles a 20-17 lead they never lost.
Murphy rushed for 191 yards, including a 66-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, on only 13 carries, to lead the Eagles over the Trojans, 37-31. Boston College hadn’t beaten a ranked team in six seasons or a top-10 team in a decade.
Boston College outgained USC on the ground 452 yards to 20. The Trojans haven't given up that much on the ground since 1977. The running game worked because the Eagles' offensive line, one of only two in the nation that starts five graduate students, won the battle on the line of scrimmage. And the running game worked because Murphy’s sleight of hand on the zone-read kept a fast Trojans defense moving in the wrong direction.
If you are looking for a mental picture of how Boston College won the game after spotting USC a 17-6 lead, think of a Trojans defender, sprawled on the ground, or turning the wrong way, lurching in vain toward an Eagles ball carrier. Suffice it to say it will be a long video session this week for USC cornerback Chris Hawkins. And he’s not the only one.
The Eagles' defense sacked Cody Kessler five times and refused to afford him time to throw downfield. Kessler threw for 317 yards, but completed only one pass longer than 20 yards. Linebacker Josh Keyes made five-and-a-half of his eight tackles behind the line.
USC hoped it could come east, get ahead early and rest its starters. When you travel with 54 available scholarship players -- and that includes linebacker Hayes Pullard, who sat out the first half after a targeting penalty last week -- you look to ease the load when you can. When the Trojans flipped field position on the Eagles early in the game and started two possessions inside the BC 40-yard line, they grabbed a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
On the other side of the ball, The Eagles went three-and-out on their first three possessions and gained a net total of minus-2 yards. By the time they moved their total yardage into the plus column, the Eagles trailed 10-0.
“We grouped up together on the sideline and we said, ‘That ends now. We’ve got to start playing up to our potential,’ I think we turned the tide then,” center Andy Gallik said.
“I thought we played our best football early in the game,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Our execution was good. But for whatever reason, we lost it. And that’s the part I have to figure out. They hit the one long run and things started to go the other direction on us.”
All upsets are emotional for the winners, but this one left a warm feeling throughout Alumni Stadium. Before the game, the parents of Welles Crowther, a Boston College lacrosse player who died a hero in the South Tower of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks, were introduced.
After the game, Eagle coach Steve Addazio gave them a game ball.
“We talked a lot about Welles Crowther,” Addazio said after the game. “We talked a lot about who he was and what it takes to be a BC man. Our guys really dug deep on this.”
Pete Frates, the former Boston College baseball player whose fight against ALS prompted the Ice Bucket Challenge that raised more than $100 million to fight the disease, attended the game and was shown on the video boards at halftime, to the delight of the crowd of 41,632.
Football teams don’t live on emotion. They live on execution, and if that’s fueled by emotion, all the better. This Boston College team is a motley crew. But on Saturday night, the Eagles didn’t play that way. They looked like five-star recruits, every one of them. Ask the five-star guys they beat.
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.
Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.
Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.
Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.
No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.
Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.
No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).
No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.
Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."
Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah
East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech, ESPN, #ECUvsVT: The Hokies are riding high after notching the upset at Ohio State last week. But the Pirates can help bring them back to earth if they aren't careful. ECU itself is amid a tough three-game stretch against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and its offense, led by the dangerous Shane Carden under center, is certainly capable of testing the home team's D. If that's not enough to have the Hokies ready, these teams' past two meetings should: Narrow Virginia Tech wins in 2013 (15-10) and 2011 (17-10).
Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech, ESPN3, #GASOvsGT: Can the Eagles notch a signature road win over a Power 5 team for the second year in a row? A year after winning at Florida, they came awfully close in Week 1, falling at NC State by one after leading throughout. Now the FBS newcomers travel to face former head coach Paul Johnson and in-state neighbor Georgia Tech. Georgia Southern is coming off an 83-9 win over Savannah State last week, while the Yellow Jackets are still trying to get on-track offensively after a three-turnover performance in a win last week at Tulane.
Pitt at FIU, Fox Sports 1: Stat-watching might be a priority in this lackluster contest. Panthers running back James Conner enters with 50 carries, 367 yards and five touchdowns to his name through two weeks. Can he play himself further into early-season Heisman discussions? His coach, Paul Chryst, has not ruled out the chance that Conner still lines up at defensive end at some point this season. Still, given the workhorse he has been -- and will need to be if Pitt is to contend for the Coastal -- this might be a good chance to limit his workload in the heat and let Chad Voytik grow as a passer. Also worth keeping an eye on is the man snapping Voytik the ball, as center Artie Rowell is lost for the year after an ACL tear last week. Gabe Roberts and Alex Officer could both see action there in place of Rowell.
Syracuse at Central Michigan, ESPNEWS, #CUSEvsCMU: This game sure looks a lot more interesting than it did two weeks ago, no? The Orange have not even played a half this season with Terrel Hunt under center, as the starter was ejected from the opener after throwing a punch at a Villanova player. The offense struggled immensely without Hunt, needing two overtimes to hold off the FCS Wildcats. The Chippewas, meanwhile, ran Purdue out of their own building last week in West Lafayette, Indiana. Syracuse hopes to have gathered itself during its bye last week and unveil the faster-paced offense it had hoped to run this season.
Arkansas State at Miami, ESPNU, #ARSTvsMIA: Now would be a good time to see what Brad Kaaya is capable of doing, what with a game at Nebraska next week and a pair of league games after. The true freshman quarterback hasn't been bad through two games, but he hasn't really been asked to do too much, either. If the Hurricanes want to contend for the Coastal crown this season, they'll need more production out of him, and better to throw him to the (Red) Wolves of Arkansas State now than the Blackshirts of Nebraska next week under the lights.
NC State at USF, CBS Sports Network: USF forced six turnovers last week against Maryland but still could not pull out the win. Jacoby Brissett has played well through two games, but the ground game has been every bit as instrumental so far, averaging 207.5 yards per contest. Still, the Wolfpack need to start faster after falling behind at home to Georgia Southern and Old Dominion before mounting comeback wins. A 3-0 start for coach Dave Doeren after a 3-9 debut season would be absolutely huge, and it would make a bowl berth a real possibility for the Pack.
Kansas at Duke, ESPN3, #KUvsDUKE: The Jayhawks are undefeated. And Charlie Weis was set to be David Cutcliffe's boss nearly a decade ago. And Duke clearly needs to get off to a better start than it did last week at Troy after falling behind by 11 early. Still, the Blue Devils have a very balanced attack that will test Kansas far more than Southeast Missouri State did last week. And quarterback Anthony Boone has looked very, very good through two games. Expect more of the same against Kansas.
Wake Forest at Utah State, CBS Sports Network: Dave Clawson did some house-cleaning this week, kicking running back Dominique Gibson and center Cody Preble off the team for a violation of team rules, in addition to suspending reserve quarterback Kevin Sousa. Clawson is coming off his first win as the Demon Deacons' head coach, but the Aggies will provide a much stiffer test than Gardner-Webb did last week. True freshman signal-caller John Wolford got much better protection last week (two sacks) than he did in a season-opening loss at Louisiana-Monroe (five), but he has to improve his decision-making after throwing three picks last week.
No. 9 USC at Boston College, ESPN, #USCvsBC: USC has been among the country's most impressive teams through two weeks. BC hopes it is catching the Trojans at the right time. Steve Sarkisian's squad travels cross-country after an upset win at Stanford to face an Eagles team coming off a home loss to Pitt. Still, it's worth pointing out just how well Steve Addazio got BC to play last year against heavy favorites Clemson and Florida State, with the latter contest proving to be the Seminoles' biggest test before the national title game. Also, kudos to BC for its attire for this contest, as it honors Sept. 11 hero and lacrosse alum Welles Crowther.
Why Washington will win: Pointing out that Illinois trailed in the second half in wins against FCS Youngstown State and Western Kentucky usually would be reason enough to pick Washington.
However, because the Huskies also played close games with a lower-level FBS team [Hawaii] and an FCS team [Eastern Washington], the first point is somewhat negated. Now that coach Chris Petersen has two games to evaluate his personnel, there's reason to believe Washington -- playing at home -- will take a step forward. -- Kevin Gemmell
Why USC will win: Is anyone really expecting the Trojans to follow up a win at Stanford with a loss to Boston College? After coasting in Week 1, the Trojans took a punch in Week 2, counter-punched and are now a top 10 team. Leonard Williams is getting healthier (bad news, Golden Eagles), and Buck Allen has climbed into early-season Heisman conversations. The Trojans will simply overwhelm BC with their athletes. -- Gemmell
Why UCLA will win: The Bruins have shown they can win a game with defense (that was Week 1). They’ve shown they can win a game with offense (that was Week 2). With a little bit of the pressure off the Bruins, who have slid down to No. 12 and don’t seem to have as much fanfare as in the preseason, Jim Mora said he expects a looser UCLA outfit. A complete game on both sides of the ball would be a good start. Against an ailing Texas team, that doesn’t seem like that far of a stretch. -- Gemmell
Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils’ impressive offensive display over the first two weeks has done nothing to dispel coach Todd Graham’s preseason proclamation that this would be his best offensive team yet. The lack of quality competition makes ASU still a bit of an unknown, but there should be no problems against Colorado, which still has some ground to make up before it can expect to beat other Pac-12 teams. -- Ted Miller
Why Arizona will win: Arizona doesn't have Brock Hekking and his beautiful, beautiful mullet, but at the end of the day, an '80s hair icon doesn't win a football game. A team does, and Arizona is going to win this one behind big performances from quarterback Anu Solomon, as he gets quite a few of his receivers involved, and running back Nick Wilson, who'll pick up another 100-yard game.
But let me make it clear: Nevada does win the '80s dance party following the game. Sorry, Wildcats. -- Chantel Jennings
And yet he should’ve been the one flagged in Saturday’s game against No. 13 Stanford.
Haden, clearly frustrated by the unsportsmanlike penalty call on coach Steve Sarkisian, let his emotions get the best of him.
He can’t do that when it’s time to vote.
Haden is recused from voting for USC -- all five sitting athletic directors on the committee have been recused from voting for their respective schools -- but he can vote for (or against) Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12. One of the biggest concerns about the playoff has been how to eliminate bias from the selection committee (it’s impossible), and Haden’s actions Saturday were a real-time snapshot of just how deep allegiances can run. Fans and coaches must have confidence in the committee members and trust that they put their jobs ahead of their loyalties.
The image of Haden shaking his head at the officials with his hands on his hips was unprofessional, but it was also a lesson for the committee in the first year of the playoff. Haden was a Rhodes scholar. He knows he made a mistake.
So does the rest of the college football world. That's an even bigger penalty than the one that brought him onto the field.
Even in victory, the Big Ten looked defeated.
The beleaguered conference went 8-5 in its nonconference games, but none of it mattered after Michigan State lost to Oregon, Michigan got clobbered by Notre Dame and Ohio State lost at home to an unranked Virginia Tech team. Not since Sept. 17, 1988, did those three programs all lose on the same day.
It was ugly. All of it.
Nebraska made McNeese State look like Florida State. The Buckeyes lost at home for the first time under Urban Meyer. Michigan’s series with Notre Dame ended in the first half, when the Fighting Irish jumped out to a 21-0 lead. Purdue lost to Central Michigan, and Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois. South Florida had a lead over Maryland, and Ball State was beating Iowa before both Big Ten teams pulled ahead. Overall, the Big Ten went 0-4 against teams ranked in the top 50 of ESPN's Football Power Index, with its best win coming from Minnesota over No. 73 Middle Tennessee.
This was the week for the conference to assert itself in the playoff conversation and silence critics with a marquee win over a top-five team. Instead, the Big Ten looked like the first Power 5 conference that should be left out of the four-team playoff. Even if Michigan State runs the table, its strength of schedule will be called into question if the rest of the league continues to underwhelm -- if it hasn’t already.
QB questions remain for Alabama
Alabama’s quarterbacks remain a storyline, as Blake Sims and Jake Coker each threw for at least 200 yards in a 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic. Sims completed 11 of 13 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, but he had a fumble near the goal line. Coker completed 15 of 24 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown in his most extensive playing time so far.
They’ve been good enough to beat West Virginia and Florida Atlantic, but which one can beat Florida? Auburn? LSU? And that Texas A&M team that’s not a one-trick pony?
The good news for Alabama is that whoever winds up as the full-time starter has Amari Cooper to throw to, and he can make just about anyone look good.
One of them will have to be great, though, to get to the playoff.
Morning musings: Will UCLA ever put together a complete game? ... Virginia Tech is now the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division. ... The SEC West made the most improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. ... If serious, FSU’s injuries on the defensive line will be a problem. ... Good grief, Michigan. ... Did Mack Brown cringe or smile? ... Red zone, Stanford, red zone! ... It’s easy to rip the Big Ten, but the ACC hardly looked like a world-beater. (Lookin’ at you, UNC and NC State.)
STANFORD, Calif. — USC coach Steve Sarkisian has a firm set of expectations when he coaches against Stanford.
“They don’t give you much,” he said. “You have to earn everything you get in all three phases.”
He certainly wasn’t expecting a smooth trip to Stanford Stadium, where the No. 14 Cardinal carried a nation-best 17-game home winning streak into Saturday's Pac-12 opener. Sarkisian has coached against the Cardinal enough in the past several years to understand a trip here is never easy.
The fact that the Trojans needed to overcome sloppy play, 10 penalties and the ejection of All-Pac-12 linebacker Hayes Pullard to win 13-10 actually fit what Sarkisian thought was a more plausible script.
“We had a feeling as a team that this game was going to be this type of game,” he said. “We just kept talking about continuing to fight through it and continuing to fight on and keep playing and keep playing through the adversity, which we were anticipating.”
Ultimately, two plays made the difference.
The first was a career-long, 53-yard field goal from Andre Heidari to put USC ahead by three with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. The second was a blind-side sack and forced fumble from linebacker J.R. Tavai in the final minute that returned the ball to USC and sealed the victory.
There will be a lot to get cleaned up, but in his first big test as coach at USC, Sarkisian couldn’t have been happier with a passing grade.
Stanford, on the other hand, is left wondering what went wrong. For long stretches, the Cardinal looked like the vastly superior team. It moved the ball effectively -- both through the air and on the ground -- and was physical on defense but simply failed to capitalize on the opportunities it created.
On each of its nine drives in the game, the Cardinal advanced to at least the USC 32-yard line but lost effectiveness the deeper it drove.
“Against a team that is not really moving the ball a whole bunch on us, why take the chance [and kick]?” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You want your defense to stand up and keep the field position. I'm going to keep making those calls. I feel great about our defense.”
That mentality factored into his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the USC 3-yard line late in the third quarter -- only to see freshman fullback Daniel Marx come up short.
“The problem in the red zone right now is me,” Shaw said. “I've got to get back to work and make sure we're doing things that our guys can do [and] put them in positions to be successful.
“It's not about being a genius, it's not about orchestrating all kinds of other things; it's about going down there and executing our plays," Shaw added. "We had opportunities. We didn't take advantage of them. When we had a guy open, we had a protection issue. When we had the protection, we didn't get the guy open.”
The bottom line is USC made the plays when it mattered. Stanford did not.
What that means moving forward is irrelevant, but the Trojans have to like where they sit. With a favorable schedule coming up -- the Trojans have Arizona State at home and miss Oregon -- USC is currently projected by the ESPN Football Power Index to have a 10-0 record headed into its game with UCLA on Nov. 22.
“What Coach Sark has done for this team -- got these guys believing not only in him, but each other, everybody involved in the Trojan family -- is unbelievable,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
Stanford faces an uphill battle to claim its third consecutive Pac-12 title but needs to look only to last year to realize it’s possible. The Cardinal emerged from the Pac-12 North a two-loss team a year ago -- with one of those losses to USC -- before they won the conference title game and advanced to the Rose Bowl.
STANFORD, Calif. -- It’s not surprising that frustration was the main point of discussion after No. 14 USC beat 13th-ranked Stanford 13-10 in a constipated slog Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium. The surprise, though, was who was standing on the USC sideline voicing that frustration.
Trojans athletic director Pat Haden was summoned to the sideline late in the third quarter, after head coach Steve Sarkisian decided his annoyance with the officiating crew was going to get him kicked out of the game or perhaps render him incapable of coaching his team while expressing the true breadth of his displeasure.
Sarkisian’s solution was to summon Haden to the sideline from his luxury suite -- “mid-hot dog,” Haden joked -- to do the arguing on Sarkisian's behalf. The sight of Haden, a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, stalking the sideline in his gold pants added yet another bizarre episode to the ongoing saga of USC football.
USC had issues with the officiating for much of the game, but Sarkisian’s frustration apparently got the best of him after a delay of game penalty following Andre Heidari’s 25-yard field goal with just under a minute left in the third quarter. The penalty was called because Sarkisian was standing too close to the field when the ball was snapped. Sarkisian was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing that call, and the 15 additional yards moved the kickoff back to the 10-yard line.
At that point, Sarkisian says he feared getting a second unsportsmanlike call, which comes with an ejection, so he asked someone on the sidelines to summon Haden. According to Haden, someone in the USC compliance department texted him from the sideline -- a low-level NCAA infraction -- and informed him of Sarkisian’s wishes.
"Obviously, I had gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty, and I was incorrect," Sarkisian said. "You can’t be in the white at any time, and I was in the white on the field goal. At the time I vehemently disagreed with the call, but by the letter of the law, I was incorrect.
"I didn’t feel like I was in a position to continue to discuss that with the officiating crew. I felt like I was better off having Pat get in between and make sure everybody knew what was going on. I was in a frame of mind, I was in a competitive mode, and I just felt like it was the right thing to do."
Haden stood the rest of the game inside the players’ box on the USC sideline, frequently no more than a few feet from Sarkisian. Despite being photographed and filmed speaking with the officials in an animated fashion, Haden categorically denied he was arguing.
"By the time I got there, it had all been worked out," Haden said. "I was just an innocent bystander. There was a funny flow to the game. Just funny."
Asked if he felt he had overstepped his bounds as AD by arguing with officials from the sideline, Haden said, “I wasn’t arguing with the officials. Officials and athletic directors can disagree, and I’m usually wrong. … I’ve never been asked to go down [to the sideline], so when I was asked, I went down. Whatever penalty was called, they’d hashed it out and Sark said, 'I was wrong.'"
The unsportsmanlike call on Sarkisian was followed in quick order by a helmet-to-helmet late hit called on USC linebacker Hayes Pullard, whose ejection was upheld after review.
On the sideline, Haden told ESPN’s Heather Cox, "I got a text to come down because Sark wanted to talk to me. He felt the call on him was unfair, and the referee explained he had warned him, and that’s why he got the penalty, but it’s been a really frustrating quarter with the penalties, believe me. We got the right answer, we can move on and have a good fourth quarter."
Asked after the game if he was concerned about the appearance created by a member of the selection committee on the field engaging the officials, Haden shook his head and said, "I’m the athletic director of my team as well."