This weekend's game against Nebraska will give us a real good look at SC and tell us where they really stand in the BCS Picture. The voters of the various polls are restless for some solid answers and with both Oklahoma and LSU winning convincingly you can see some cracks in the support of USC. That's fine let the other guys take the heat of the spotlight, I have always wanted SC to fly under the radar so the can stay focused. Of course the hype is everywhere but with SC being off last week some are second guessing their original pick.
Nebraska offers some challenges; the offense is much improved from last season. The offensive line is a stout and can blow some holes open for Marlon Lucky they will give Sam Keller some time to throw the football to Maurice Purify who is always a dangerous weapon. This is where the game will be won. With all the hype of USC having the nations best defense and backup talent at every position that would start at other programs this is expected to be THE big match-up. Can the D line put the pressure on Keller to take him out of his rhythm? Can the linebackers shut down the Nebraska running and force Keller to throw it into a pretty good secondary?
We will soon find out, but how do they see it?
There are some that think that Bill Callahan was playing possum against Wake Forrest so as not to tip his hand and show SC their game plan, we have already heard that is exactly what SC did against Idaho. I'm not thinking that way though, this is Keller's first, and last, year within this system so he needs to run all the plays to really get comfortable which means that the they had to open up the play book. Keller hasn't looked his best and if you read the comments in the Wake Forrest game thread over at [Corn Nation] you would see that the Husker faithful has some questions about just how well Keller will do. In regards to Callahan I still remember the beat down he took in the Super Bowl when he went up against Gruden and how the Buccaneer defense knew the playbook and shut the Raider Offense down. That said a lot about Callahan and I have never forgotten it, his game plan against USC last year was way too conservative for playing a top team on the road. You save those games for when you play at home against an in-conference bottom feeder not one of the top teams in the nation.
It won't be a cakewalk though, as Lincoln is a tough place to play and it can be very LOUD. I know SC will probably travel well to Lincoln but that is a special place to play with a lot of history. The Husker team of 1995 was probably one of, if not the greatest teams in college football history. USC's 2004 team is right there as well but that Husker team was absolutely dominating and their 62-24 rout of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl was as convincing a win as you will ever see. Once Tom Osborne left the walls came tumbling down as it ushered in the Frank Solich era. Osborne had his issues particularly with RB Lawrence Phillips and the Peters brothers but for the most part Osborne was seen as one of the good guys in college football.
Last years team was a little more balanced with both a solid offense and defense. The defense was particularly good and they came very close to upsetting Texas at their game in Lincoln. The offense has come into their own and the hope is that Keller with his experience playing in the Pac 10 will bring a little inside information on how to beat SC. Of course, as Defender90 noted in an earlier thread, Keller's last game against SC didn't go as planned.
Keller raised his arms to a jubilant student section on his way to the locker room. The upset victory was going to make Arizona State a national title contender and possibly make an All-American out of Keller.
A reporter for the Arizona Republic proclaimed "game over" in the press box and a reporter from Los Angeles scribbled the premature proclamation on his notepad.
Less than a year later, Keller woke up here, running Nebraska's scout team.
"Probably the luckiest thing that's ever happened to me," Keller said.
Keller played that second half against USC in 2005 and had four passes intercepted, the last hitting star receiver Derek Hagan in the hands before the ball trickled somewhat miraculously into the arms of USC's Kevin Ellison, who made the game-cinching pick while flat on his back.
USC rallied to win, 38-28, and it was Keller's turn to go belly-up.
Now, I realize that in 2005 USC had a team for the ages and that this year's team is no where that level of talent but this years team is nothing to sneeze at either. Keller has a pretty good offense this year and bill Callahan is doing his best to return the Huskers to relevance. There was a time when the very name Nebraska brought chills to those who followed the sport. They were always in the mix and always got the attention but after Osborne left and Solich drove a proud program into the ground Nebraska has scratched and clawed its way back to prominence.
This game may be about relevance to some but it also is about bringing back a certain culture, and not just a culture of winning. Simple people who are passionate about their team and how it is part of the fabric that shapes who they are, those of us from the big cities have many of the same concerns of family and lifestyles and the teams we root for are a part of that same type of fabric but because some of come from big cities there are many other trappings that can break up the every day grind. Nebraska is all about football and only football. There is no baseball, no basketball only football...only the CornHuskers. When T.J. Simers wrote that gratuitous piece in July, I was bothered as to why someone would go out of the way to disparage others for the lifestyle they choose for the sake of some "witty piece". That simple life and love for the only thing that matters to these decent people is Nebraska football.
This game matters for all Nebraska fans. Sure, it is important to beat a top team but because so much of the discussion or narrative is about where teams are at as the season progresses a win for Nebraska does wonders at keeping them in the hunt, or discussion depending on where you stand. If Bill Callahan is to turn the corner with this team this game has a lot of ramifications. Callahan will have to have a better game plan than the one he had at the Coliseum last year. This game quite simply is his measuring stick.
The 14th-ranked Huskers will face the Trojans with a quarterback who has played against them twice before. Sam Keller, who transferred from Arizona State last year, saw mop-up duty against them in 2004. In 2005 Keller staked the Sun Devils to a 21-3 halftime lead. But Keller was intercepted five times and sacked five times, and USC outscored the Sun Devils 35-7 in the second half to win 38-28.
They have some demons to exorcise that is for sure.
USC's play anyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere approach is good for the game and regardless of what some may think of Pete Carroll or all of the hype that come SC's way you have to admit that their success has done wonders in raising the level of competition in college football. Nebraska has done their share in the past at making this game great an now they have an opportunity to get back in to the national conversation. Of course I want them to lose, but I look forward to seeing a great game with spirited fans who know a thing or two about the game and who, regardless of the outcome, are some of the best fans in the game and who will always be gracious in victory and defeat.
We wish them luck...next week of course.
Jon over at Corn Nation has a great write up looking at the history of USC football, please stop by and give it a read and throw a comment Jon's way, he really did some great research in putting that piece together.