USC routs Michigan, makes case for crown

Top-ranked Trojans win Rose Bowl, 28-14, lay claim to share of national title

College Football

January 02, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PASADENA, Calif. - For one cool, hazy Southern California afternoon, there was little dispute over which college football team was the best in the land.

The top-ranked USC Trojans may have been unfairly denied an invitation to the Sugar Bowl and a chance to play Oklahoma in the designated national championship game, but they made sure they will not be overlooked in the final polls with a 28-14 victory over No. 4 Michigan yesterday in the 90th Rose Bowl.

USC (12-1) finished the season ranked first in the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls. The Trojans are all but certain to remain on top of the AP media poll and earn the share of the national title that is determined by human voting. The USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, however, is contractually obligated to honor the Bowl Championship Series standings and award the top spot to the winner of the Sugar Bowl.

The Sooners will play LSU for the BCS title on Sunday night and create the kind of split decision that the BCS computer rankings were devised to prevent.

USC coach Pete Carroll, who has refrained from complaining about the BCS snub, stayed on message after sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart threw three touchdown passes and caught one himself to lead the Trojans to a decisive victory before a sellout crowd of 93,849.

"We are so proud to be able to get to this point and get the opportunity to represent a great university and a great football program," Carroll said. "I think we just won the national championship."

He got no argument from the Wolverines (10-3), who had no answer for USC's speedy receivers and dominating defensive line. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said afterward that he would fulfill his obligation to vote for the winner of the Sugar Bowl in the coaches poll, but he acknowledged that he would vote for the Trojans if he had a choice.

"I'm committed as a member of the coaches poll to vote the winner of the Sugar Bowl as national champion," Carr said. "I will do that, but if I was a member of the media, I think USC is very deserving. I think Coach Carroll and that football team earned their share of the national championship."

Leinart was named Rose Bowl Player of the Game after completing 23 of 34 passes for 327 yards and leading the Trojans to a 21-0 lead early in the third quarter. He twice hit senior receiver Keary Colbert for touchdowns and scored his team's final TD on a reverse quarterback throwback from receiver Mike Williams.

What a way to top off one of the great offensive seasons in USC history - a year in which Leinart and Williams established themselves as the most prolific passing combination in the nation. Leinart never found Williams in the end zone yesterday, so they traded places and Williams threw a perfect spiral to Leinart coming out of the backfield for a 15-yard score.

Colbert turned out to be the go-to guy in his final college game. He caught six passes for 149 yards and set a USC career receiving record with 207 receptions. He caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Trojans on top 7-0 in the first quarter and made a spectacular one-handed grab for another TD on the first drive of the second half.

Colbert got his left arm tangled up with cornerback Jeremy LeSueur on a long post pattern, but he fought off the defender and gathered the ball in with his right hand as he crossed the goal line. The catch drew comparisons with the one-handed highlight-film grab made by Williams against Oregon State in USC's regular-season finale.

"We got kind of tangled up a little bit," Colbert said. "I just tried to make a play any way I could. I didn't even realize that it was a one-handed catch until after the game, but I've done that before."

Michigan came out on the wrong end of one other unusual play, when a pass by senior quarterback John Navarre bounced off the foot of receiver Braylon Edwards and was intercepted by linebacker Lofa Tatupu to set up the second USC touchdown.

The Wolverines conceded that the Trojans were just too fast, too quick and too athletic. The Michigan offensive line had allowed just 14 sacks all season, but the USC defensive front sacked Navarre nine times.

"They did a great job," said offensive lineman Tony Pape. "They came out with a great game plan. They kept us on our heels ... kept us guessing. They're great."

The best team in the nation? "Bar none," Pape said. "You saw how great they played. They played us perfectly. We have great respect for them."

The Trojans suffered only one loss this season, an overtime defeat to California that would end up costing them a chance to play in the Sugar Bowl.

"Our team is coming together so well, and there are just so many things I'm proud of," Carroll said. "It's wonderful to have this opportunity and then to achieve it when you get the chance. So many guys did things today that were remarkable. ... It was a classic Rose Bowl."

The Trojans can only dream of settling the split championship on the field, but defensive tackle Shaun Cody thinks he knows how a showdown with the BCS winner would turn out.

"I'd love to play LSU or Oklahoma the way we're playing right now," Cody said. "We're getting better each weekend."

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