- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

The media spinmeisters need to stop. What went on in Seattle and Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday was nothing short of a pair of epic letdowns.

Let’s start in Washington, where the game’s talking heads would have you believe Steve Sarkisian’s upstart Huskies authored a feel-good, program-rebuilding 16-13 upset of then-No. 3 Southern Cal.

But the game wasn’t about a purple phoenix rising from the ashes of last season’s 0-12 debacle to announce its return to college football’s elite landscape. The Huskies (2-1) aren’t back; the Trojans (2-1) simply didn’t show up.

A week after dispatching Ohio State in Columbus, college football’s perennial prima donna skipped its casting call in Seattle. The Trojans committed three turnovers inside the Washington 35 and converted none of their 10 third-down opportunities against a pedestrian Huskies defense that gave up 23 points to Idaho last weekend. Had USC replaced injured quarterback Matt Barkley with a corpse instead of Aaron Corp, that still would be pathetic.

And it’s nothing new for Pete Carroll’s Los Angeles media darlings, who usually fail to show up for at least one of these seeming walkovers. In six of the past seven seasons, USC has given away a game against an unranked, double-digit underdog. From Oregon State (2006 and 2008) to UCLA (2004 and 2006) to Cal (2003), Stanford (2007) and now Washington, seven of USC’s nine losses since the start of the 2003 season have come against unranked fodder. It’s simply mystifying that a program with a near-flawless 25-2 record against ranked teams during the same time span always falls victim to one of these title-dooming no-shows.

Forget lauding a Washington bunch as likely as not to lose at Stanford next week. The real story is the shocking recidivism afflicting one of the nation’s premier programs.

And where are the giggles at the top-ranked Gators? Saturday’s game against Tennessee in the blood-lusting Swamp was supposed to be Florida’s opportunity to force-feed mouthy Lane Kiffin about 70 points of crow. Everyone from Las Vegas to Bristol called for a public execution carried out by Tim Tebow.

So what happened?

Despite losing 23-13, Tennessee held the Gators to their lowest scoring output in their past 25 games, ended Tebow’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 30, forced two Tebow turnovers and held the Gators to their lowest offensive output (323 yards) in the Swamp in more than three years.

Not exactly the kind of performance anyone expected from a vengeance-seeking Florida team touted as possibly the best in NCAA history.

“It wasn’t how we envisioned or hoped,” Tebow said.

Little Kiffin’s offense had little or nothing to do with Tennessee’s surprising performance. But like the kid on the playground who claims, “My father can beat you up,” Lane retreated behind the safety of his old man, Monte, and the longtime NFL defensive guru proved he was unquestionably the best coach in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It might have been a Florida victory, but it was also a win for Kiffins young and old.

Just in case the spinmeisters decide to call it like it was, Florida coach Urban Meyer gravely revealed Sunday that several members of his team were suffering from flu-like symptoms. Disregard the timing of that announcement and repeat the following media directive: Lane Kiffin is the SEC coach with no class.

Watching Lane and Urban go at it on and off the field over the next few years is going to be better theater than anything on Broadway.

Game balls and gassers

Wind sprints go to USC and BYU. For those who might have been sleeping, the formerly No. 7 Cougars dropped a 54-28 squeaker at home to a Florida State team that might as well have been 0-2 after losing in Tallahassee to Miami and then struggling with something called Jacksonville State in Week 2. Strangely, BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall hasn’t yet cited the flu epidemic in Provo.

The first round of kudos goes to Miami quarterback Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes, who - unlike Washington - are officially back after drubbing Georgia Tech 33-17 on Thursday night. But the player of the week is Greg Paulus, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns to propel the Orange to a 37-34 victory over previously unbeaten Northwestern. The former Duke point guard is the kind of throwback, multisport gamer seen far too rarely in today’s culture of soccer travel teams for 8-year-olds.

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