- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — This would have been a perfect Rose Bowl for the USC Trojans, except for the one part they couldn’t control.

They couldn’t pick their opponent.

The sixth-ranked Trojans routed Illinois 49-17 yesterday and showed the rest of the country that, yes, maybe they are the best team in college football right now.

Certainly, a better test could have come against Georgia or Virginia Tech or maybe next week against Ohio State in the national title game.

But the Rose Bowl wanted a Pac-10-Big Ten matchup, and the national title game didn’t want Southern Cal. So it wound up being USC-Illinois in the Granddaddy of ‘Em All, and the Trojans made the Illini pay.

“I would love to play one more,” defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis said. “I don’t think any team in the NCAA could beat us right now. Not Ohio, not LSU.”

Freshman tailback Joe McKnight finished with 170 of USC’s Rose Bowl-record 633 yards. The 49 points tied a record, too, and the blowout gave the Trojans 11 wins for an unprecedented sixth straight season.

They have arguably been the country’s best team over that span and might have been the best this season, too. Lacking the playoff that coach Pete Carroll favors or the trip to the title game he lobbied for, the Trojans (11-2) will have to take this overwhelming display in Pasadena.

“Everything that was out there for us, we took,” Carroll said. “The rest of it is up for discussion. But would I love to still be playing right now? Sure would. We’d go out there any time, any place, any venue and throw our football out there and see what we could do.”

The game featured 1,078 total yards of offense. Despite the margin, things were truly competitive for a brief moment. Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall broke a 79-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to trim what had been a three-touchdown deficit to 21-10.

Minutes later, Mendenhall scooted 55 yards with a screen pass from Juice Williams, and Ron Zook’s 13th-ranked Illini (9-4) looked as if they might really complete the impossible dream — from 2-19 over the last two years to Rose Bowl champions.

But two plays later, Kaluka Maiava popped the ball out of receiver Jacob Willis’ hands, and USC’s Brian Cushing won a scramble in the end zone, one of four Illinois turnovers.

“You can’t turn the ball over,” Zook said. “Whether they were forced or we weren’t playing with consistency and the intensity you have to have, I’m not sure.”

Moments later came the play of the game. John David Booty threw a sloppy lateral to McKnight, who didn’t catch it but was able to scoop it up on the bounce and run 65 yards. McKnight was chased down by defensive back Vontae Davis — yes, Zook is recruiting some speed to Champaign — but four plays later Booty hit Fred Davis with a 2-yard touchdown pass.

That made it 28-10, and the rout was on.

“You can’t imagine how much work it takes for John to throw it like that so it bounces just right,” Carroll said as a joke. “But Joe made something out of it. It was exhilarating, the speed he came out with and the play he made.”

Booty threw for 255 yards and three scores to set a Rose Bowl record with seven career touchdowns.

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