A couple of years back, Deadspin included the L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke in its series' titled "Why Your Hometown Columnist Sucks." Two years later, founder Will Leitch penned a similar note in a "Media Approval Ratings" post on the man:
Plaschke is the master of the five-word, one-sentence paragraph that so many newspaper columnists employ to make their columns run longer with less work....When we lived in Los Angeles, back in 1997, we thought Plaschke was a compelling read. Then we discovered Rob Neyer and intelligent thought and the notion that sometimes people win because they're lucky and lose because they just weren't as talented, not because they were "chokers," or "champions." This revelation destroyed Plaschke's schtick pretty quick.
Generally, I am loath to pay too much attention to a man who arbitrarily decided last year that South Florida, Boston College, Hawaii, and West Virginia running near the top of the ranks of college football was bad for the game (his reasoning? It's not good when teams no one has heard of are kicking butt); my brain cells are better served by dying via alcohol than poor writing.
But now the man has determined that USC's body language at Media Day is enough to suspect that they're taking Penn State lightly.
The Penn State players spent Tuesday's 30-minute Rose Bowl media session sitting upright, quiet, attentive.
The USC players lounged. Some buried their heads in their hands and slept. Some talked on cell phones. Others bounced to iPods.
One player spent nearly the entire session stretched out on the floor underneath his table. A couple of others used their hands to pound out rhythms on top of the table.
As a giant clocked ticked off the final moments of the interview session, many of the Trojans chanted "3 . . . .2 . . . 1 . . . Happy New Year!"
Hmmm. Will it be?
If media day was any indication -- and it usually is -- there are two ways to look at how USC has handled The Week That Nobody Wanted.
1) The Trojans are loose enough to be dominant.
2) They are bored enough to be ambushed.
One thing for certain is, Penn State is neither.
You have to be kidding me. Is this the best you can do on Media Day? Dredge up implications of how teams would play based on the faulty premise of players swaggering in with iPods, acting loose, being, y'know....kinda typical SoCal people, somewhat a reflection of their coach, who isn't anywhere near uptight (at least in public)?
I really have a hard time believing any columnist or beat repoter could tell you anything significant about how a team will play in a game based on their attitude during a mandatory media session. Go watch a practice, see how the players do there, but since Plaschke knows next to nothing about college football (never mind his supposed base in any other sport), this is all A Sign Of A Possible Letdown, which does a disservice both to the Trojans and to the Penn State Nittany Lions -- because if USC lost on New Year's Day, it will be because "they beat themselves," if only to fulfill the premise of hte earlier column.
But let us return to said column:
Once or twice a year, it seems, this Trojans monster takes on a life of its own.
No matter what their creator preaches, they hear only an inner voice that reminds them of their incredible skill. They interpret this to mean their immortality. A humbling loss usually follows.
Could they be tuning out Carroll and hearing that voice now? Considering Carroll was the one who first referred to this repetitive Rose-Bowl-as-consolation-prize-business as, "Groundhog Day," maybe they are getting the voices confused?
"No, this is an extraordinary challenge. They want to go out and show who they are," Carroll said of his team.
That will certainly happen Thursday, when they will play for a fourth consecutive January in a stadium down the street, against a team from a conference with no juice, in a game that has zero bearing on a national championship.
As witnessed Tuesday at a downtown hotel, the Trojans will be locked in a battle with their toughest opponent.
A team who dominated the conference with no juice, who clearly shouldn't be tarred with the brush that taints the rest of the Big Televen right now -- hell, if you were a PSU backer and read Plaschke, you'd have fought off some contradictory impulses: either your team is the best challenge to USC in years or guilty of transitive properties of suck thanks to being in your particular conference.
Could it be that Oregon State was just a better football team that Thursday night, that they effectively run blocked, allowing Jacquizz Rodgers to hide between the tackles?
Could it be that Stanford just played out of their heads on that fateful night last season?
Could it be that Plaschke has no clue what he's talking about when it comes to the dynamics of a team?
Yeah. Most definitely.
The motto gleaned from Plaschke's work, and that of many other sports columnists these days, is pretty simple: don't bother breaking down the actual match-ups on both sides of the ball in the Rose Bowl when you can mail in a column on Media Day without referencing one single statistic that might tell you something about what to look for on Thursday afternoon.
(If you're interested, Plaschke butchers baseball worse than he does football, if that's possible. Fire Joe Morgan tore him apart mercilessly.)