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The big game: USC vs. Ohio State

A look at this week's college football scene. For more, check out sports.tampabay.com.

If the worst that can be said of a program is it played poorly in the past two national championship games, then that program has few problems. If 11 victories, a Top-5 ranking and yet another triumphant BCS appearance is considered a down year, life is good for that program. This is where Ohio State and Southern Cal currently reside, at the very top of the college football food chain. When the No. 1 Trojans and No. 5 Buckeyes meet today at the Los Angeles Coliseum, an argument could be made that it's a matchup of the top programs of this decade. "Anyone can have one or two good recruiting years or a year when the schedule falls into place," Hall of Fame coach and ESPN analyst Lou Holtz said. "But to be consistently excellent takes great leadership and commitment." Since Pete Carroll took over in 2001, the Trojans are 77-14. Six losses came in that first season. The next six seasons were spectacular. Each ended with a Pac-10 title, Bowl Championship Series appearance and Top-5 ranking. The Trojans won national championships in 2003 (Associated Press only) and 2004, and only Vince Young's performance of a lifetime for Texas kept them from a third in '05. Jim Tressel became Buckeyes coach the same year Carroll took over Southern Cal. He and the Buckeyes have since left Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten in the dust. Ohio State is 75-16 under Tressel, won a national title in 2002 and is trying to become the first team to win three straight outright Big Ten championships.

Quotable

"He has a ball security problem, not a fumbling problem."

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer on running back Arian Foster, who had the pivotal fumble in a loss to Penn State in the Jan. 1, 2007, Outback Bowl, above, and another in the season-opening loss to UCLA

An ode to Bo?

For those in and around the Michigan program who were offended and/or motivated by his "To hell with Michigan" comment in the spring, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis offered this response: Get it?

"Anyone who is a Michigan fan should know and understand that that comment pays respect to Bo (Schembechler, right) and his mentality when playing an opponent," Weis said Tuesday. "So take it for what it's worth. But I think that's a very respectful comment toward Coach Bo's 'To hell with Notre Dame.' "

The Schembechler quip was one of the late Michigan coach's responses to matters relating to the Irish. As for current events, though, Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison said Weis' comment is "plastered" on the Wolverines' training room wall.

Tables turn on Spurrier

In Year 4 of the wait for Steve Spurrier and the Cock 'n' Fire, here is where South Carolina's program stands:

• Spurrier is 22-17 overall, 11-14 against the SEC and 5-9 against ranked opponents. The Gamecocks have lost six of their past seven dating to 2007, a stretch Spurrier has not endured since his first year at Duke 21 years ago.

• An offense ranked just No. 8 in the conference last season is currently 10th after South Carolina's 1-1 start. Spurrier is 1-2 against hated Clemson. And somehow, he is now 2-2 against compliant Vanderbilt after a seven-point upset last week. That made it two straight losses to Vandy, which Spurrier teams had beaten 14 straight times.

"We think we know what we're doing," Spurrier said. "I still believe I'm a good coach, but we've got to coach this team a little better.

"Hopefully, we'll find a way to do that."

It was right around this week last year when it began to feel like old times again. The Gamecocks held Georgia to four field goals and won 16-12 in Athens on Sept. 8. Afterward, Spurrier, in classic Head Ball Coach form, said the result was not a "shock" and that, "It wasn't like they were some big, powerful team."

Since the Gamecocks crested at No. 6 in midseason of 2007, they have lost five straight conference games. Now comes Georgia, ranked second nationally. In its long history, South Carolina has never beaten a No. 2, much less a No. 1.

"They know how big a game this is," Spurrier said. "We got a lot of Georgia players on our team. They know what it is. Tennessee is a big game, too. Florida is a big game. … Vanderbilt's a big game."

East Carolina grabs spotlight

When Skip Holtz took over in Greenville in 2005, East Carolina had lost 22 of its previous 25 games, including 19 by double digits and seven by 33 or more. Now they Pirates are everyone's favorite story line. "It's great because it creates a buzz," said Holtz, who went 34-23 at I-AA Connecticut from 1994-98 before spending six seasons on his dad Lou's staff at South Carolina. "But as I told our players, the last two teams we played (Virginia Tech and West Virginia) both had ranks next to their name. We didn't, and we're 2-0. It doesn't mean anything to this point."

Doesn't stop anyone from projecting. Or else where's the fun?

The Pirates' final nonconference games are at N.C. State (where they won in 2006) on Sept. 20 and at Virginia (which they beat at home that same season) on Oct. 11. They avoid Conference USA West Division favorites Tulsa and Rice, and face Central Florida, likely for the East title, on Nov. 2 at Orlando.

Someone has to be the BCS buster. It has turned into a tradition. Boise State? East Carolina beat the Broncos in December's Hawaii Bowl. In today's C-USA opener, the Pirates are at Tulane, which opened with a 20-6 loss at Alabama. In November, the Pirates beat the Green Wave at home 35-12.

Information from the Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Daily News was used in this report.

Five things

1. If Oklahoma wins at Washington, Bob Stoops (99-22 in his 10th season) would become the fourth Sooners coach to reach triple-digit wins, something no other school can say. The others: Bennie Owen (122-54-16, 1905-26), Bud Wilkinson (145-29-4, 1947-63) and Barry Switzer (157-29-4, 1973-88).

2. The Big 12 went 12-0 last week, but only Oklahoma beat a team from another BCS conference (Cincinnati). The Big Ten went 11-0 with only Penn State (Oregon State) and Northwestern (Duke) doing likewise.

3. Bowling Green's Diyral Briggs leads the nation with five sacks. He's trying to become the third player from the Mid-American Conference in the past five years to finish first. In 2004, it was Marshall's Jonathan Goddard with 16. Two years ago, it was Western Michigan's Ameer Ismail with 17.

4. Iowa State has forced 11 turnovers in two games. It forced only 18 all last season.

5. Safety Otis Wiley had five punt returns for 113 yards in last week's win over Eastern Michigan, almost eclipsing Michigan State's yardage for all of last season (126 on 31 returns).

Tale of the tape

Ohio StateSouthern Cal

9 Wins in series * 11

.715 (3)All-time win percentage (rank).704 (7)

.806 (4)'00-08 win percentage (rank).796 (5)

7 Heisman Trophies ** 7

6-7 Rose Bowl record 22-9

738 (2) Weeks in AP poll (rank) 658 (5)

93 (3) Weeks at No. 1 in AP poll (rank) 88 (4)

* Does not include one tie

** Tied with Notre Dame for first

Ranking data from appollarchive.com

The big game: USC vs. Ohio State 09/12/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 4:47pm]
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