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Williams is the Trojans' forgotten playmaker

Nearly every analysis of Southern Cal and Oklahoma talks about how similar the teams are.

But it could be much, much different. Imagine USC's advantage for Tuesday's Orange Bowl if wide receiver Mike Williams still played for the Trojans.

Marquee players such as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Dwayne Jarrett might take a back seat to Williams this week if he'd returned for his junior season.

"One would hope it would be different if I was on the team," Williams, the former Plant High standout, said. "The guys always said, "Mike, make a play.' "

Though Williams was the go-to guy for two years, a USC staff member incorrectly said he never scored on a play of more than 40 yards. He had a 55-yard touchdown against Washington State and 54-yarder against Oregon his freshman season.

"It's kind of out of sight, out of mind," Williams said of no longer being with the Trojans. "People think, "He was great back when,' but oh, well. When I wasn't scoring touchdowns anymore, that's what happens."

Williams won't be on pins and needles Tuesday. He won't even attend the game but will watch on TV from Georgia, where he's working out in preparation for the NFL draft.

"You feel committed like the alumni about whether they win or lose," he said. "But you're not in the mix. I don't think it's bittersweet. It is what it is. I don't think you can make much more than that."

His connection to USC faded somewhat after the NCAA declared him ineligible in August, the day the Trojans left for their season opener against Virginia Tech in Landover, Md.

Williams applied for reinstatement after a court ruling shut him out of the draft. He enrolled for the fall semester but left in October to move to Duluth, Ga., and begin workouts. Williams attended USC's victory over Cal at the Coliseum in September, his only game and last conversation with Trojans coach Pete Carroll.

"It was really short," Williams said. "He just said, "Wish you were here.' "