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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

In L.A., there's more to life than spring football

Spring games at USC and UCLA drew crowds of 22,565 and approximately 12,000, respectively. Ohio State had a record-breaking turnout of 95,722 at its Scarlet and Gray game.

April 26, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Spring football in Los Angeles has always meant one thing: Lakers basketball.

It's not that people didn't care about USC and UCLA playing final scrimmages at the Coliseum and Rose Bowl on Saturday -- most people probably didn't even know.

Hey, that's just . . . us.

Aaron Corp is the new (for now) quarterback at USC, while a Kevin -- Prince, not Craft! -- took snaps for UCLA's first unit.

Yet, at two of the roomiest sporting venues in America, it was so quiet you could have heard a yardstick drop.

USC, a program that has claimed two national titles this decade and boasts a coach who has gone 88-15 in eight years, unveiled its 2009 sneak-peek on a gorgeous, breezy, sun-splashed afternoon. Pete Carroll looked so cool he had to wear shades.

The crowd was announced at 22,565. Adults paid $10 a pop, while students and kids got in free.

They set up a playground bounce-house in the Coliseum's peristyle end -- presumably to keep preemie quarterback Matt Barkley occupied.

It was more spring carnival than spring game.

Corp, who has tentatively won the battle to replace the out-going Mark Sanchez, took his first USC baby snaps.

The good news was Corp didn't look like a carp. Unlike Sanchez and John David Booty, Corp is skinny and can run.

But can he win?

Corp said he was nervous running out of the Coliseum tunnel for the first time.

"It's exciting," he said. "I can't wait until there are 92,000 here."

Quarterbacks don't have to wait other places.

Ohio State drew 95,722 for its Saturday spring game in Columbus. The crowd was the largest recorded for something in college football that doesn't count, topping the 92,138 Alabama drew two springs ago for Coach Nick Saban's debut.

Last week's Alabama spring fling attracted "only" 84,050, no doubt a hangover from last year's humiliating Sugar Bowl loss to Utah.

Nebraska's April 18 spring game drew 80,149, and Michigan, which went 3-9 last year, coaxed an estimated 50,000 for its April 11 game.

Corp broke out in a broad smile when informed Ohio State fans crushed USC fans in spring-game attendance.

"Ohio State doesn't have a beach!" he said. "I don't blame our fans. It gets loud in here in the fall."

Last season, before a crowd of 93,607 at the Coliseum, USC crushed Ohio State right where it counted: 35-3.

Spring football is different here, and not necessarily worse.

In the South they say there are two sports: football and spring football.

In Los Angeles, we say there's football and a thing called a life. So, in relatively obscurity, our two teams tinkered in their workshops.

USC, trying to replace eight defensive starters off last year's one-loss Rose Bowl champion, didn't have to tell one person to keep the noise down.

The Trojans mixed in some theatrics, too, breaking up the Cardinal vs. White monotony with jumbo screen updates of the NFL draft.

Carroll was standing at the 12-yard line, a few paces behind Barkley, when it was announced Sanchez had gone No. 5 to the New York Jets.

From the field, Carroll (or someone, um, with access to his password) immediately "tweeted" Sanchez congratulations -- "We're cheering for you here in the Coli!"

Carroll, of course, originally recommended that Sanchez should return to USC.

UCLA, coming off 4-8 in Rick Neuheisel's first season, held its scrimmage at night, and all the quarterbacks wore black jerseys.

Everyone, though, swore things were getting brighter.

If you didn't see Saturday's National Football League draft and were interested in how many UCLA Bruins were selected, the answer was "none."

Saturday's scrimmage was free -- and still the vacuous Rose Bowl was about one-fifth full.

Two veteran reporters combined their quantum physics degrees to count the 30 people sitting in the East end "visiting" side -- there were probably 12,000 or so others who tucked themselves in seats beneath the press box.

This year's theme?

"Just bear with us," a miked-up Neuheisel told the Rose Bowl crowd before the scrimmage began.

Prince is the redshirt freshman quarterback with the inside track to replacing Kevin Craft, the junior college transfer whose 20 interceptions last year threw the quarterback position open.

Inauspiciously, Prince's third pass of the scrimmage was intercepted, by Alterraun Verner. On a positive note, the Bruins' offense stopped Verner from returning it for a touchdown.

The Bruins then trotted out former UCLA Coach Dick Vermeil, who said a good team, like a good wine, takes time.

"Be patient," Vermeil said.

The scrimmage ended with the UCLA offense fumbling at the goal line.

UCLA fans closed with a 4-and-8 clap.

At least here, though, we knew it was only a spring game.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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