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Tradition Is Fashionable Again at USC and LSU

The long dormant college football powerhouses have risen again under the leadership of Trojans' Carroll and Tigers' Saban.

August 22, 2004|From Associated Press

The last time USC football was this good, the school was being called Tailback U., running Student Body Right and pumping out Heisman Trophy winners.

LSU's recent success has conjured up memories of Billy Cannon dashing through Death Valley and the Chinese Bandits smothering opponents on defense.

USC and LSU, two schools rich in tradition and surrounded by a wealth of talent, have gone from dormant to dominant.

Under Coach Pete Carroll, the Trojans are again one of Los Angeles' glamour teams. Meanwhile, Nick Saban has restored Baton Rouge as one the country's college football capitals.

After slogging through a string of mostly forgettable seasons, both the Trojans and Tigers finished the 2003 season as national champions. USC was first in The Associated Press voting and LSU won the Bowl Championship Series title.

USC quarterback Matt Leinart wasn't even born the last time the Trojans won a national championship, but he's well aware of the school's history and proud to be part of the resurgence.

"It's so great to be a part of it, and with Coach Carroll, to bring back the prominence and the dynasty-type level of play," Leinart said. "The way we've been playing the last two years kind of brings back the glory days of the '70s, when we used to win national championships and be good all the time."

The Trojans wrapped up a share of the 2003 national title with a 28-14 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan. Carroll has a 29-9 record at USC, including 27-4 after a 2-5 start his first year.

"It's so great to be standing in front of you representing what this university has always been about: winning championships, national championships," Carroll told a crowd of several hundred fans in January when the Trojans received their national championship trophy.

At LSU, Saban has guided the Tigers to a 39-13 record since becoming the coach following the 1999 season. His teams have played in bowl games every year, including a 21-14 Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma last season for the BCS crown.

Saban is proud to have overseen the rebirth of a once great program.

"There were some schools, back when you were growing up as a kid, in the late '50s, '60s, '70s, schools that have traditions. They were always pretty good, and LSU was one of those places," he said. "I always liked LSU for some reason.

"You didn't see the number of games on TV that kids do now, but I remember the Chinese Bandits and some of the traditional things about it. My biggest question when I got asked about interest in this job was, 'What's happened over the last 15 years? It doesn't seem like it's the same as it used to be.'

"The greatest amount of self-gratification I get from what the team was able to accomplish a year ago is the pride that I see in so many people."

The Trojans are the preseason No. 1 in both polls for the upcoming season, with the Tigers ranked fourth by the AP voters and third by the coaches.

The Tigers' 2003 national title was their first since 1958, when they were led by Cannon, an explosive running back who would win the Heisman in 1959, and the Bandit defense.

The Trojans hadn't won a national championship since they topped the coaches' balloting in 1978. The national title last season was USC's first in the writers poll since 1972, when fullback Sam 'Bam' Cunningham blocked for tailback Anthony Davis on the end sweeps coach John McKay called Student Body Right.

The '72 title was the Trojans' third in 11 years. Throughout the '70s they continued to be among the nation's best, and in 1981 Marcus Allen joined Mike Garrett (1965), O.J. Simpson (1968) and Charles White (1979) as Heisman-winning tailbacks for USC.

The luster started to come off the Trojans during the '80s, and the '90s were filled with disappointment. After going to three straight Rose Bowls from 1988-90, USC went to just one more during the '90s.

LSU took a similar course during the '90s, frustrating its fanatical fans with losing seasons and unmet expectations.

The Tigers and Trojans watched as other teams harvested talented players from their backyards and each struggled to find the right coach.

For LSU it was the demanding and intense Saban, who was lured away from Michigan State. For USC it was Carroll, the ex-NFL coach whose enthusiasm and energy proved a perfect match for the college game

LSU finally broke into the top 10 by finishing No. 7 in 2001 under Saban, then USC was No. 4 in 2002, Carroll's second season.

Both coaches have injected positive vibes into their programs.

"We haven't had a negative attitude around here since I've been here," Saban said. "We lost some games we shouldn't have, but people stayed positive, they stayed the course and we've been able to get better and better."

Both coaches also realize that one championship doesn't exactly constitute an era, and Carroll is taking the long view to measure the Trojans' success.

"Ten years from now, you have look back. If things can come together at the right time and you can win a championship, that's cool and all," Carroll said. "But that's not important to me. What's important is to see how long you can keep it going, how long you can stay on top from season to season, in the top five or something like that."

Saban has made sure his players put last season in perspective.

"Coach says don't look back on last year. We are focused on a new season, a new year," wide receiver Skyler Green said. "This is a new team and we just have to set the standards higher than last year and focus more on what we have to do this season."

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