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College Football | COMMENTARY

It's October, and Trojans Look Scary

October 27, 2002|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. — As good as it was, as good as USC's 44-33 rout of Oregon was here Saturday, you get the feeling that it wasn't as good as it gets.

Right now, the only thing that can stop the Trojans is what they face next weekend.

An off day.

What Carson Palmer, Justin Fargas and Coach Pete Carroll's Trojans did to a nationally ranked Oregon team was almost criminal: A total of 608 yards on offense, a 20-point burst in the third period that turned everything after 44-19 into garbage time, and a balanced offense that suddenly had a slashing rusher in the form of Fargas to give Palmer the kind of relief and offensive variety he has needed for his entire nine-year career at USC (or is it eight and just seems like nine?).

USC fans haven't had these kinds of lofty feelings since, well, the 1996 Rose Bowl, when the Trojans sent Northwestern back to the realities of academia, 41-32.

But even those days, near the end of John Robinson's second era, didn't have the potentially explosive feel that these Trojans give off. Remember, Robinson's '95 Trojans got to the Rose Bowl despite losing their regular season final to hated UCLA, as well as losing in midseason to more-hated Notre Dame. It was a nice season, but with an asterisk that read: Lost to Irish and Bruins and won Rose Bowl, but against a bunch of bookworm geeks.

No, this one feels different. With the sudden emergence of Fargas, who was a starter at Michigan so long ago that hardly anyone remembers that, or the serious leg injury that nearly cost him his career, USC has as balanced and potent an offense as any team in the country. And entering the game, the Trojans were 13th in the country in total defense and tops in the Pac-10.

USC, 4-1 in the conference, has four games left, three in the Pac-10. The possibilities are unlimited.

The Trojans play at Stanford on Nov. 9, and the best thing about Stanford is now standing along the sidelines during Notre Dame games. After Stanford is a game at the Coliseum against Arizona State, which plays conference favorite Washington State next Saturday at Pullman, where the Sun Devils will find little sun and a devil of an opponent. Then there is the ever-competitive (except last year) UCLA game, where the Bruins probably will have to go with a quarterback who was just out of diapers when Palmer threw his first Trojan pass back in the late 1980s.

And then, of course, come the Irish, currently unbeaten and moving up the national rankings, as are the Trojans, who entered Saturday's game a notch below Oregon at No. 15. That game will be in the Coliseum on Nov. 30, and it, like today's Trojans, has the makings of the good old days of one of the greatest rivalries in college football.

So, it was hard to fault Carroll, in his second year and still a bit new to this Trojan lore stuff, if he bubbled over after the win. Matter of fact, this one turned out to be a "four-jacked" win, as in "I'm jacked, " the phrase he used four times in his postgame news conference. Carroll is in the top five of America's most-excitable football coaches anyway, and that's after recovered fumbles in practice, so you can imagine what a 44-33 pasting of Oregon can do for him.

It also had to be a nice moment for Carroll to be able to smile, walk across the field at the end of the game and shake hands with Oregon's Mike Bellotti, who two years ago turned down the Trojan job that eventually went to Carroll.

So, from a season that stutter-started a bit with a loss at Kansas State in the third game and fostered doubts when Washington State took a 30-27 squeaker at Pullman comes championship talk, and BCS thoughts and real chances at beating both Notre Dame and UCLA in the same year, something the Trojans have not done since 1981 and the days of Marcus Allen.

Yes, USC fans, it has been 21 years.

Palmer, who with his total of 796 yards and nine touchdowns passing in his last two games suddenly might be as good a Heisman candidate as anybody in the country in a year when nobody has really emerged, said that he hated Oregon and so did the entire Trojan team -- that's what a four-year losing streak will do for you -- and added that Saturday's victory was "a championship game."

Well, maybe not quite. Matter of fact, maybe there is more ahead even beyond a Pac-10 title.

Maybe the best is yet to come.

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