- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Talk about your reversals of fortune. Heading into the Rose Bowl, Southern Cal was 34-0; ever since, the Trojans have been 0-34 — beset by one Unfortunate Event after another. Or so it seems.

When Vince Young traipsed across the SC goal line and won the national championship for Texas, it was as if he turned the Men of Troy into the Men of Troy University. The NFL Draft was just the latest example of how the worm has turned for the Trojans. To recap:

• Reggie Bush, the consensus No. 1 pick, wound up going second, presumably because his agent drove too hard a bargain with the Texans.

• Matt Leinart, who undoubtedly would have been the No. 1 pick a year ago had he turned pro, dropped all the way to 10th, presumably because general managers kept asking themselves: How bright, how driven to succeed can this kid be if hanging out with his college buddies — and taking Ballroom Dancing as a fifth-year senior — is more appealing to him than signing a $49.5 million contract, about half of it guaranteed?

• LenDale White, Bush’s inside-running alter ego, fell out of the first round because of injury and attitude concerns.

• Offensive tackle Winston Justice, another projected first-rounder, also got taken later than expected (second round, Eagles), as did strong safety Darnell Bing (fourth round, Raiders).

And those were just Saturday’s developments.

There’s so much debris swirling, “Twister”-like, around the SC program that we’ll probably see an airborne cow before long. In fact, the airborne cow might turn out to be these questions being raised about Bush and receiver Dwayne Jarrett, these suspicions about illegal benefits. If it turns out Reggie and/or his family accepted favors from a would-be sports marketer, well, we all know what that could mean. Everything the Trojans have accomplished the past two seasons could be jeopardized. Heck, the Downtown Athletic Club might even ask for its Heisman Trophy back.

No certificates of welding have turned up … so far. No exotic dancers, either. But little else has gone right lately for Southern Cal football. Just a few days before the draft, Mark Sanchez, vying for the vacant quarterback job, was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a female student. And a few days before that, prized high school QB Jimmy Clausen, who plays in the Trojans’ backyard, committed to — eeks! — Notre Dame. About the only way it could be worse for the SC program right now is if Al Cowlings and O.J. Simpson took another spin down the Santa Ana Freeway.

And to think, with 6:42 left in the BCS championship game, Southern Cal was leading Texas 38-26 and closing in on an unprecedented third straight AP national title. To think, with 2:13 left in that game, the Trojans had only to convert a fourth-and-2 to essentially seal the deal. How did they get from There to Here so quickly?

Coach Pete Carroll, who may soon be changing his name to Embattled Coach Pete Carroll, has a pretty good idea. As much as he and his staff try to warn the players about the hidden hazards of college athletics, “Our guys are marked guys, they have had success, and there’s people trying to get in on that,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “We have moved into very different territory now, all the hype, all the distractions, all the people who want to influence us, and we will be more aware of that. We will work harder to control that.”

That said, it’s hard to keep players from going Hollywood when their home field is practically on the MGM lot. Just as it was hard, I suppose, for Jerry Tarkanian to keep his players from getting caught up in the glitz and hot tubs of Vegas. A school like UNLV is an NCAA violation waiting to happen.

And Southern Cal, you may recall, has had its problems over the years, too. Ronnie Lott didn’t get to go to a bowl game in his final season at SC because of a scandal involving junior college transcripts. Two years later, the Trojans got caught selling complimentary tickets and were banned from postseason play again. Their last brush with the law was 2001, when they received another jail term for academic hanky-panky.

The NCAA’s announcement of that penalty read thusly: “As required by NCAA legislation for any institution involved in a major infractions case, Southern California is subject to the NCAA’s repeat-violator provisions for a five-year period beginning on the effective date of the penalties in this case, August 23, 2001.”

Do the math. SC is still within that five-year time frame.

In other words, uh-oh.

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