- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

In the dynamo du jour world of major college football, nothing is static. And Tuesday night, when the game’s once and future kings collided in the Orange Bowl, the trend of tomorrow became as unmistakably blunt as the final score.

Southern Cal — skyrocketing.

Oklahoma — plummeting.

Quite simply, the Trojans were, are and will be that good. Get used to it. Troy is the new capital of college football, a program stockpiled with the kind of talent, confidence and swagger the modern game has witnessed only upon occasion in Coral Gables, Fla., and Lincoln, Neb.

“This is a program that’s flying, no doubt,” ecstatic USC coach Pete Carroll said after his Trojans (13-0) pasted previously unbeaten Oklahoma 55-19 to become the first team to win back-to-back national titles since Nebraska in 1995. “We can’t wait to see who’s going to do something special next.”

The scary thing is that Carroll’s exuberance isn’t just bluster; it’s reality.

Even if Heisman Trophy winner and Orange Bowl MVP Matt Leinart skips his senior season and jumps to the NFL, which is likely despite his contentions to the contrary, the Trojans will be favored to threepeat. They’re loaded — Yankees style.

Even without Leinart, the Trojans would return 16 starters, including their backfield thunder (LenDale White) and lightning (Reggie Bush), explosive wideouts Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith and an entire offensive line that manhandled one of the top defensive fronts in the nation en route to 525-yard title game eruption.

There are a few more losses on the defensive side of the ball, most notably those of All-American tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson and fearless linebackers Matt Grootegoed and Lofa Tatupu. But the bulk of Carroll’s astonishing recent recruiting haul, which also earned consecutive No.1 rankings, has yet to hit the field.

Losing recruiting coordinator and defensive firebrand Ed Orgeron to Mississippi likely will hurt some (see Chuck Amato’s departure from Florida State). And the potential jump of offensive coordinator Norm Chow to a head coaching vacancy would smart even more.

But nobody’s weeping for the Trojans because Carroll clearly has found the formula.

“We need to get some players to come in and add to this thing so we can continue to grow and then go back at it and ride the wave that we’re on,” said Carroll, on a 22-game roll in just his fourth season. “We’ve got a real nice team coming back. We’re going to be a really hard team to beat if we continue to do the things we do.”

Just ask the road kill from Norman, Okla.

The Orange Bowl was equal parts coronation and condemnation. Once-infallible Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops tried to dismiss the doom and gloom talk after the game, but the entire world, and most importantly every recruit, saw the Sooner Schooner drop both axles in the most important game of the year — again.

No team had lost consecutive title games, much less in such fashion. That’s a cache-crusher for a coach, a negative trebled when that coach’s reputation is the primary bait luring blue-chippers to scenic Norman.

“You really soul-search as a coach wondering how this could happen,” Stoops said after absorbing the worst defeat of his career. “You’ve got to rise to the moment and play your best in these situations, and we didn’t do that.”

That’s the understatement of the season.

Two plays defined the Sooners’ performance. First, there was senior Mark Bradley’s decision to play steal-the-bacon with a punt inside his own 5-yard line, a move Stoops called “as bad a play as there is.”

Then there was 2003 Heisman winner Jason White’s decision on Oklahoma’s next possession to heave a pass into quintuple coverage. USC’s Jason Leach practically had time to signal for a fair catch before intercepting White’s floater.

A debate over which play earns “1a” status and which “1b” in the annals of big-game gridiron lobotomy could last for hours. Regardless, the two plays typified the night for an Oklahoma team that finished with five turnovers and zero pride.

As for White, he’s in an emotional wasteland that would make Kafka shudder. The guy is Bill Buckner squared. And unlike Stoops, he doesn’t get a chance to atone next season. He has to spend the rest of his life knowing he was inexplicably awful in the two biggest games of his career.

He received mail last season asking him to return the Heisman Trophy after throwing two interceptions in a 21-14 Sugar Bowl loss to LSU. After Tuesday’s three-interception performance, folks — particularly those in Auburn — probably will demand his firstborn.

Memo to Auburn: You don’t want any.

Sure, the Tigers (13-0) would have given Tommy Trojan a better scrap than the team formerly known as the Oklahoma Sooners. But anybody who watched the Tigers’ Sugar Bowl squeaker, followed a day later by the Trojans’ Orange Bowl romp, couldn’t fancy the boys from the Plains with a straight face.

USC was going to cripple any opponent short of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday night. And Auburn should consider itself lucky. The hapless BCS system might have cost the Tigers a title shot, but it likely also spared them their dignity.

Oklahoma wasn’t as fortunate. It would be surprising if the wounded Sooners sniff a title berth in the near future.

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