Orange Bowl Write-Up
This year's National Championship is between two teams that were disappointed by the results of LY's Sugar Bowl, USC for not being in it and Oklahoma for losing it to LSU 21-14. The Trojans did get some satisfaction as after their Rose Bowl win over Michigan they won the AP Poll and were Co-National Champs. USC and Oklahoma went wire-to-wire as #1 & 2 for the first time in the AP Poll's history. USC leads the series 5-2-1 SU all-time (3-0 ATS) with the last meeting coming in '92. Trojans HC Pete Carroll in his 1st year back was 6-5 SU & ATS but dropped their 2001 Las Vegas Bowl matchup to Utah 10-6. Since then USC has gotten better each year going 10-2, 11-1 and 12-0 TY with dominating bowl wins in the 2002 Orange Bowl (38-17 over Iowa) and LY's Rose Bowl (28-14). OU Co-DC Bo Pelini served as a Carroll assistant for 5 years in the NFL while the Sooners former-DC Mike Stoops is the headman at Arizona and will certainly give his brother all the film and help that he can (USC beat UA 49-9). Oklahoma has won 7 National Titles with their most recent coming the last time they played in Miami in the 2000-'01 Orange Bowl, a 13-2 upset of Florida St as 10 pt dogs. OU is 12-5 SU all-time in the Orange Bowl. Stoops is 3-2 SU (2-3 ATS) in bowls and is 12-2 SU all-time vs Top 10 teams. USC played the tougher schedule (#13-22). In games against bowl teams this year both teams were 6-0 SU but only 2-4 ATS. USC outscored those foes 32-15 and outgained them 401-320. The Sooners outscored them 34-18 and outgained them by a wider margin 450-304. Both teams have only been a single digit fav once TY with USC getting a non-covering 23-17 win (-7) over Cal (a game in which they were outgained 424-205!!), while OU covered against Texas 12-0 (-7) as a 4H Key Selection on these pages. Both teams play on grass so no advantage to either team. The Trojans have 8 seniors with 14 total upperclassmen starters. OU is a senior dominated team with 13 overall starters and 18 upperclassmen. This will be the first time the Sooners have been a dog since 2002 but they have gone 9-2 ATS in that role with 8 outright upsets including their last visit to the Orange Bowl.
USC has the NCAA's leader in all-purpose yds Reggie Bush (PS#5, Heisman finalist) who totalled 2,181 yds TY. OC Norm Chow likes to move Bush around to create mismatches and he finished 2nd on the team in rushing (833 yds, 6.1) and receiving (478 yds, 11.7) with 13 TD's. Heisman Winner QB Matt Leinart (PS#9) made the offense go avg 249 ypg (67%) with a 28-6 ratio (#9 NCAA pass eff). LenDale White was the leading rusher with 985 yds (5.2) and 15 total TD's (13 rush). They had hoped to get WR Mike Williams back after his failed bid to enter the NFL draft but the NCAA ruled him ineligible. Steve Smith (PS#3) stepped in but was injured mid-season although he did return at the end and will start here (#3 w/35 rec, 15.6). True Fr Dwayne Jarrett (PS#4) led the team with 50 rec (14.7) and 12 TD's. TE's Dominique Byrd & Alex Holmes (PS#3 & #5) combined for 58 rec (9.. The OL has gone thru growing pains TY as they only have one senior starter, LG John Drake on the unit. Drake (350 lbs) and RT Taitusi Lutui (370 lbs) are the largest USC linemen in history. The rest of the line is made up of youngsters and overall the line avg 6-4 317 lbs. They allowed 24 sacks (6.1%) with an impressive 4.5 ypc TY and USC finished with our #5 offense. The defensive front seven is solid and quick, led in the middle by DT Shaun Cody (9 sks, 40 tkls), NT Mike Patterson (6 sks, 10 tfl, 42 tkls), and MLB Lofa Tatupu (#1 tklr 92, 5.5 sks & 7 tfl, 8 pbu, 3 int) with all 3 being 1st Tm Pac 10 members. Overall the DL had 27.5 of the team's 48 sks. DT Manuel Wright is a key member of the rotation who missed the last couple of games but is expected to return here. The secondary has a bunch of solid tacklers with good coverage skills which is why they finished with our #1 pass efficiency defense. SS Darnell Bing (53 tkls, 6 pbu, 2 int), FS Jason Leach (44 tkls, 4 pbu, 2 int) and CB's Justin Wyatt (39 tkls, 5 pbu, 1 int), Kevin Arbet (26 tkls, 2 pbu, 1 int) and Eric Wright (29 tkls, 6 pbu, 1 int) comprise the unit. USC held opponents to just 196 ypg (53%) with an outstanding 11-19 ratio in the pass-happy Pac 10. Overall USC has our #2 defense.
After dominating their 12 regular season games in '03 by an avg 48-13 margin, many in the media crowned the Sooners as "the greatest college football team of all-time." OU then got run over 35-7 by Kansas St in the title game as KSU was the one team who exploited OU's glaring weakness - its lack of a physical running game. Due to their substantial lead in the BCS system, OU still made the Sugar Bowl at the expense of USC where they again were out-toughed in the trenches. OU avg'd just 67 rush ypg (2.2) in their L/4 games LY and Stoops knew that the top offseason priority was to upgrade the running game to take the pressure off Heisman Winning QB Jason White (Heisman finalist TY). Stoops immediately signed PS#1 RB Adrian Peterson and the rest is history as "AD" (All-Day) had one of the finest freshman campaigns in NCAA history. Peterson (Heisman finalist) bulled his way to 1,843 yds (5.9) despite splitting time early in the year with Kejuan Jones (504, 4.0). With LB's now having to genuinely respect play fakes, Jason White was sk'd just 7 times all year (16 in L/4 of '03) and he was able to remain healthy all season for the first time in his 6 year career. White had another terrific season avg 247 ypg (65%) with a 33-6 ratio. Mark Clayton had fewer opportunities but still hauled in 62 rec (13. with 8 TD's. Travis Wilson (43 rec, 14.0, 9 TD) and Mark Bradley (21, 20.2, 7) also are quality playmakers. The OL is anchored by Outland Winner OT Jammal Brown and Rimington finalist C Vince Carter. OU finished with our #4 offense. OU's defense (#1) remained the team's solid backbone with the DL leading the way. Dan Cody (1st Tm Big 12, 9 sks, 6 tfl), Jonathan Jackson (1st Tm Big 12, 8 sks) and Larry Birdine (7 sks) gave OU what Stoops hailed as its best DE play ever. The DT position was thin after the departure of preseason AA candidate Dusty Dvoracek but they were able to piece together a quality 3 man rotation. OU allowed just 86 rush ypg (2. with 38 sks. Lance Mitchell (72 tkls, 10 tfl) returned from an ACL injury to lead the LB corps. The secondary allowed just 194 ypg (55%) with a 10-8 ratio to rank #20 in pass eff D despite playing without top cover CB Antonio Perkins for a number of games. After the backups were burned for several long passes vs Okla St and A&M, Stoops burned Marcus Walker's (PS#2) redshirt. With Walker in the lineup and the return of Perkins, OU allowed just 84 ypg (49%) with a 0-2 ratio L/3 games. The Sooners have one of the finest safety combinations around in FS Brodney Pool (85 tkls, 9 pbu) and SS Donte Nicholson (66, 6).
For USC AA Reggie Bush is a dangerous returnman avg 26.4 on KR's (#10 NCAA) and 16.0 on PR's (#9 NCAA) with 2 TD's. They have a top flight punter in Tom Malone who LY would have finished #1 in the NCAA in avg but did not have enough attempts. This year he was 10th with a 43.8 avg and a team net 42.4 with 17 inside the 20. PK Ryan Killeen struggled this season only hitting 14-23 (4-9 40+) with a long of 42 but looked to have regained his confidence hitting 5 of 5 (USC record) FG's against UCLA. The Trojans finished #24 in our special teams rankings (#32 incl K) due to the below avg coverage units that allowed 21.4 on KR's and 9.5 on PR's with 2 of their punts blocked. OU ranked #18 in special teams (#45 incl K) headed by their terrific coverage units as they allowed just 15.7 on KR's and 4.2 on PR's. PR Antonio Perkins (9.2) tied the NCAA career record with 8 PR TD's but missed most of the season due to an inj. KR Mark Bradley avg'd just 18.4. P Blake Ferguson avg'd 41.8 with a 39.1 net but did drop 2 snaps which led to opp's TD's. K Trey DiCarlo struggled so badly (8-16 with L/35) that Stoops pulled the RS off of true frosh Garrett Hartley in the 11th game of the season. Hartley hasn't att'd a FG yet but is 10-10 on PAT's.
Having the top 4 Heisman Trophy vote getters on hand, along with the teams having our #4 & #5 offenses and #1 & #2 defenses, these are CLEARLY the best two teams in the NCAA and this is a TRUE National Title game. At the start of the year we called for this matchup in the Orange Bowl and called Oklahoma the best team in the country (only 1 of 2 magazines to pick the Sooners #1). Now that their D is healthy they are the best team in the country and Stoops will have his team well motivated for this. USC has looked beatable many times this year (Virg Tech, Stanford, Cal, Ore St, UCLA) and this is by FAR the best team they will face this year. We feel the Sooners should be favored (see checklist, page 29).
FORECAST: OKLAHOMA 31 Usc 23