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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC seems out of sorts

Pete Carroll's teams have always dictated terms, but these Trojans have been playing it too safe.

September 21, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

We know when the season started, we know where it has been, but where does it go from here?

Week 3 questions and half-baked answers:

* Of all the USC losses to unranked schools in the Pete Carroll era, was this one the worst?

It could be.

The program seems out of philosophical sorts -- especially at quarterback. At what point does restricting the offensive playbook become strangulation -- or has it already reached that point? USC's offense has produced two touchdowns in the last two games.

The most stunning quote to emerge from the post-Washington locker room was Aaron Corp's answer to the question of when coaches told him he was starting the game.

Corp: "They never really did."

They never really did?

First, Carroll names Corp the starter in spring, and then in the fall. Then Corp gets hurt and Carroll exalts freshman Matt Barkley to the starting spot, understandably not wanting to rush Corp back from injury.

Barkley then conservatively, but effectively, shepherds USC to opening wins against San Jose State and Ohio State, but bruises his shoulder, and Carroll can't seem to wait to rush him back.

Corp doesn't know if he's starting all week, plays tentatively against Washington, and now we're back to Barkley, with Corp's confidence damaged, perhaps irreparably.

No matter which player takes the snaps, USC's mantra has thus far been to protect the quarterback position at all cost -- even victory. The play-calling has been more conservative than a GOP fundraiser in Balboa and opposing coaches have already figured it out: Stack the line of scrimmage and make the quarterback beat you.

This is a switch, because most years USC dictates the terms.

These are interesting times at Heritage Hall.

USC dropped from No. 3 to No. 12 in Sunday's Associated Press poll, and No. 10 in the USA Today coaches' index, putting the Trojans in catch-up mode. It's still early, though, as the first BCS standings won't be released until Oct. 18.

And here's a message of hope: In 2003, Louisiana State debuted at No. 12 in the first BCS standings and rallied to win the national title.

See, it's not all daggers and doom.

* Brigham Young lost, now what? The difference in BYU's being exposed by Florida State on Saturday and past years is that BYU was the first team from outside the power conference structure to have a legitimate shot at competing for the BCS title. BYU, No. 7 in the AP poll last week, had just as fair a shot to win it all this year as No. 8 California.

This is important in the political argument, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, a BYU graduate, who thinks the BCS is a rigged game.

BYU played a championship-worthy schedule, and nonconference wins against Oklahoma and Florida State, coupled with sweeping the Mountain West, would have put the Cougars in contending position.

"This game doesn't change the way I think of our program," BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "But it certainly exposed some weaknesses."

BYU's loss, though, only shifts BCS political attention back to Idaho.

Defeat in Provo sets the stage for Boise State to go undefeated in the regular season for the fourth time this decade without having a chance at the BCS crown.

Boise State doesn't have BYU's schedule punch and plays in a weaker conference -- the Western Athletic. Boise State scored major political points in an opening win over Oregon but has no ranked opponents left on its schedule.

Boise State, which is now No. 8 in the AP, is stuck in neutral.

* Did Charlie Weis save his job with Notre Dame's 33-30 win over Michigan State?

"Well, I think it was just a game, period," Weis said.

And the Beatles were just a band.

Dropping to 1-2 with another home loss to Michigan State would have crippled Weis' chances for surviving past his fifth year in South Bend. Falling to 1-2 probably would have necessitated Weis' going 8-1 the rest of the way with little margin for error. Saturday's win was enormous, humongous -- did we mention huge?

* Can Miami win the national title after starting the season unranked?

Did Howard Schnellenberger have a giant mustache?

One clear-cut axiom about college football: Voters can't wait to fast-track standard bearers back to the top.

The polls are now playing serious catch-up, with Miami using a victory against Georgia Tech to jump 11 positions in the AP to No. 9 -- and it seems perfectly warranted. The lag-behind coaches bumped Miami only nine spots to No. 13.

Imagine if there were no preseason polls and you had to rank the teams so far based on performance. How much better has Texas looked than Miami?

The Hurricanes, led by sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris and innovative, first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, have been the most impressive team through two weeks.

Miami has the schedule to push right past folks like, well, sorry, Boise State. The Hurricanes play at Virginia Tech this week before playing host to Oklahoma on Oct. 3.

If Miami is 4-0 on Oct. 4, clear the BCS decks.

* Is this finally California's year?

It should be, but we've said that before and ended up with Birkenstock in mouth. Two years ago, Cal was on the brink of becoming No. 1 for the first time since 1951 when the Bears let a home game slip away against Oregon State and stumbled to a 7-6 finish.

That year, Cal was No. 6 and improved to 5-0 with a dramatic 31-24 win at Oregon -- so here we go again.

Guess what: Cal moved to No. 6 in Sunday's AP poll and plays in Eugene on Saturday. If Cal can beat Oregon again, the bandwagon bus heads back to Berkeley for an Oct. 3 showdown against USC.

If these aren't the two most important weekends in the recent history of Cal football, they're certainly on the short list.

Maybe this is the year the program of "Wrong Way Roy" makes a complete right turn.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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