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The heck with the No.1 Sooners. If the No.2 Trojans and No.3 Tigers were to meet in a playoff, the edge would go to ...

December 06, 2003|Elliott Teaford and Sam farmer | Times Staff Writers

Let's stash the pompoms for a few moments and quiet the pounding hearts beneath those USC and Louisiana State sweaters and golf shirts in L.A. and La.

By using a few raw facts and the comments of some unbiased observers, we can try to determine which team is best qualified and deserving to face Oklahoma in the bowl championship series title game Jan. 4 in the Sugar Bowl at New Orleans.

If USC and LSU actually played, which team might win?

First, the numbers: USC has a 10-1 record and a BCS rating of 6.90, second behind No. 1 Oklahoma. The Trojans are ranked second behind the Sooners in the writers' and coaches' polls. They end the regular season against Pac-10 rival Oregon State today at the Coliseum.

LSU has an 11-1 record and a BCS rating of 8.43, third behind the Sooners and Trojans. The Tigers are third-ranked in the writers' and coaches' polls. They end the regular season against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game tonight in Atlanta.

USC defeated Auburn, 23-0, and Arizona, 45-0.

LSU beat Auburn, 31-7, and Arizona, 59-13.

USC has a seven-game winning streak since losing Sept. 27 to California, 34-31, in triple overtime.

LSU has a six-game winning streak since losing Oct. 11 to Florida, 19-7.

The Trojans are fifth-ranked nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 157.02. They are No. 6 in scoring with an average of 41.27 points, and second in rushing defense at 61.36 yards.

The Tigers are 10th in passing efficiency with a rating of 153.97. They are No. 14 in scoring with an average of 35 points and third in rushing defense with an average of 69.67 yards.

Offense is what USC is best-known for, with quarterback Matt Leinart passing to Keary Colbert and Mike Williams and handing off to Reggie Bush, Hershel Dennis and LenDale White.

Defense is what LSU is best-known for, with tackle Chad Lavalais -- a former prison guard -- locking up opposing rushers as leader of the Tigers' "Jailbreak Defense." Lavalais, a 24-year-old senior, is a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Bronko Nagurski Award and is expected to be a high pick in the NFL draft next spring.

The coaches, Pete Carroll of USC and Nick Saban of LSU, each tried to keep their teams focused on today's games, rather than on the fuzzier, bigger picture of the BCS's final rankings, due Sunday.

Plenty of qualified opinions are out there, though, in places like Tucson.

Arizona played five ranked opponents, USC and LSU among them. But even the Wildcats offer split-decisions.

"LSU was the best team I have seen since I have been a Wildcat," senior rover Clay Hardt told the Tucson Citizen. "[LSU's] defense is big-time, awesome."

Countered senior receiver Ricky Williams: "USC is the best team in the nation."

So Arizona calls it a draw.

But what about NFL scouts, who are not only unbiased, but tend to be analytical about such things?

They say they are looking forward to drafting from both teams -- with the nod going to the Trojans, several of whom are expected to be selected in the early rounds.

"If you compare talent, I'd go with SC, especially if you take into account underclassmen," said a scouting director for an NFC team who agreed to speak about USC and LSU on the condition that he not be identified. "As for seniors, they're not going to be as high-profile as last year with Carson Palmer and [Troy] Polamalu, but they've got some pretty good ones.

"Mike Williams is a top-10 prospect. [Defensive tackle] Shaun Cody and [defensive end] Kenechi Udeze are both first-day guys. All four of those defensive linemen will play in the league. I really like Colbert and I also like [offensive tackle] Jacob Rogers."

And LSU?

"Their best senior skill position player is Devery Henderson," the scouting director said, referring to the receiver. "He's fast, but inconsistent catching the ball. He's about a fourth-rounder [in the draft]."

Another scout, this one from an AFC team, said he hasn't seen LSU in person, but has watched USC several times, and likes what he has seen in the Trojan secondary.

"The guy that came out of nowhere is Will Poole," the AFC scout said, referring to the Trojan defensive back. "He's gotten better as the year has gone on. He's certainly a first-day guy, a first- or second-rounder."

What makes a college cornerback a good pro prospect?

"You've got to be able to run," the AFC scout said. "Although this guy has never been timed [by an NFL team], it certainly looks like he can run. Then it's feet, hips, change in direction. I think the attitude is really important. You're going to get beat, but it's how you respond."

Scouts weren't the only press box denizens to weigh in on the matter. Two sportswriters offered contrasting opinions on the teams.

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