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Team Is at Its Best in Big Moments

January 04, 2006|MARCUS ALLEN | Marcus Allen, who in 1981 became USC's fourth Heisman Trophy winner, was college football's first 2,000-yard rusher and set 14 NCAA records. He played 16 seasons for the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs and in 2003 was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

USC will win the Rose Bowl and a third consecutive national championship, but it's too simplistic to attribute that to superior talent on the field. There is talent on both sidelines.

The reasons I like the Trojans in this game are more intangible. I like the fact they have been in rarified air for a while and have weathered many storms. When you win that many games -- 34 in a row -- it says a lot about you as a team and as individuals. They have refused to lose.

They have come close to losing a few games, yet they found an internal reservoir of will to win. Call it what you like: intestinal fortitude, courage or wherewithal. They have been battle-tested.

Experience is always something you can fall back on and build on. When things look dire to most people, there is a comfort zone for you. USC players haven't gotten comfortable or complacent in that position, but they have been there enough to take advantage of that.

That confidence allows you to take risks. Remember the Notre Dame game? On the winning drive, on fourth and nine, the Trojans threw caution to the wind. They believed in themselves and did what they had been doing for all those games before that one.

I know this from being a Trojan: We've been in some of the greatest games against some of the greatest competition, and there's just something about that. We're not awed by those particular moments.

I was standing on the sideline in South Bend and there were some alumni standing around me -- not players, just people who had gone to SC -- and they were jumping up and down and panicking. And I'm standing there thinking, "What are you guys doing? We're going to win the game."

Then, at the Arizona State game, when we were down by 18 points at halftime, ABC interviewed me. I said, "We've just got to make a few adjustments. I'm not worried. We're going to win the game." We won by 10.

It's not arrogance. It's confidence. It's because we've been in situations like that so many times -- even when I went to school there. And I took that to the pros. My rookie year in the NFL, I wasn't awed by any of those things. Because I was in the (1980) Rose Bowl when we played Ohio State and we were down. I was on the last drive blocking and catching passes. There was always a belief that manifested itself on the field.

Do I think the game will be close? Pete Carroll has proved that he's great when you give him this amount of time to game-plan an opponent. He normally comes up with something that's very good and very effective. That was clear last year in the Orange Bowl.

That said, Texas is a more talented opponent than Oklahoma was, specifically at quarterback. Vince Young creates a number of challenges.

But no one creates the challenges Reggie Bush does.

In college football, everybody is pretty close in talent. Then, once in a lifetime, there will be somebody who will be head and shoulders above their class. Reggie is one of those guys -- and again, it's not simply because of talent.

Several months ago, I had a long talk with Reggie. He came to me and asked a variety of questions. He was picking my brain. He wanted to know what he could do to be a better player than he was already. Physically, there was nothing I could add.

But I told him there are two types of players: Those who know, and those who don't know. The ones who know are the guys who really distinguish themselves in this game. When I say "know," I mean that you have to know everything that's happening on the field. You have to be as mentally prepared as the quarterback.

"If you really want to be a great player," I told him, "I want you to go to the defensive coaches and talk to the secondary coaches, linebacker coaches, etc., and ask, 'When you guys are in this particular alignment, what should I be anticipating? What are you guys trying to do?' When you realize what they're trying to do defensively on every single play -- combined with knowing everyone's assignment on offense -- then you're a player who knows."

When you know, then you're allowed to have something that most players don't have: the freedom to play without hesitation and use your instincts.

Reggie Bush has distinguished himself at the college level. His teammates have followed his lead. That combination -- as Texas will see -- can be devastating.

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