7 min Read

IMHO Sunday: Momentum changer

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC columnist

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

Foreshadowing: If the Trojans beat Nebraska next Saturday night in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium, it will be said that Steve Sarkisian’s USC football program has momentum heading into spring ball of 2015.

Foreshadowing – Part 2: If the Trojans lose to Nebraska, it will probably ratchet up many of the past issues that discussed and debated throughout the course of the 2014 season.

The barometer: If Trojans junior quarterback Cody Kessler is a serious 2015 Heisman Trophy candidate, being the lone bowl game next Saturday night on national television (ESPN) could be a real launch point for the Kessler Heisman campaign, assuming he returns for his senior season.

Getting offensive: The Trojans have a young and developing offensive line while the Cornhuskers have what most Nebraska fans would consider a disappointing offensive line, albeit hit with injuries. The offense line that plays the best against the other’s defense will have a big say on who wins the Holiday Bowl.

Sign of age: You know you’re old if you can remember when Nebraska games were broadcast into Southern California on KGIL, and Don Gil was the voice of the Cornhuskers.

Party hardy: Given each university’s fans support, enthusiasm, and emotion, it should be a rock and roll party atmosphere next weekend in the Gaslamp District of San Diego.

A final judgment: Quietly, nobody may have more on the line by his performance on Saturday night in San Diego in front of the pro scouts than Trojans secondary performer Josh Shaw.

Prediction: Not exactly going out on a limb here, but the expectations are that junior Delvon Simmons (subbing for injured starter Antwaun Woods) will be the starting nose tackle when the Trojans line up against Nebraska. Given that the standard USC nose tackles are normally short and squatty, Simmons (6-5, 295) will be the exception to the rule.

The matchup: The possibility exists that Trojans true Freshman All-America left tackle Toa Lobendahn will be pitted against Nebraska’s all-star defensive end Randy Gregory. Matched against Gregory, this should be Lobendahn’s biggest challenge to date since his conversion to left tackle.

The question: It figures that next Saturday night’s game will be the last in a Trojans uniform for junior All-America defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The next question is just how many draft eligible Trojans players will actually follow him?

The general consensus: Talking to a number of folks inside and outside the media as it pertains to the National University Holiday Bowl, the feeling is this is a major bowl game just waiting to be played on New Year’s Eve if it doesn’t conflict with the College Football Playoff.

Sad to say, but I remember when Nebraska was amongst the giants of college football. For the record, the Huskers haven’t won a national title since 1997.

Heisman recruiting: I’ve never heard of a head coach taking a Heisman Trophy with him to help recruit, but give the Trojans Steve Sarkisian a ton of credit for ingenuity by taking Marcus Allen’s Heisman statue on the road. Whether it be recruiting a defensive back or a tailback, Sark and the Heisman are now travel buddies.

And now from the press box…

The 2014 Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade: Part of the Holiday Bowl festivities, this parade is set for Friday, Dec. 26th, at 3 p.m. alongside the bayside streets of San Diego. All local Trojans wearing SC attire are invited to march in the parade as a unit behind the Trojans Marching Band. Additional information about the Parade can be found at: sandiegobowlgames.com/parade.

Ticket research: As of Sunday, ticket outlet StubHub was offering seats for the National University Holiday Bowl for as low as $98.85 (high end zone corner) and as high as $411.75 (midfield field USC sideline).

The forecast: The early San Diego pregame weather prediction for next Saturday is for sunny with a high of 69 and a low of 50 degrees.

Ratings game: The highest television rating for a Holiday Bowl was the 1984 game featuring BYU and Michigan (9.2). We’ll see if that changes since the game is now in prime time on a Saturday night, and there will be added interest from the L.A. market.

Ratings game – Part 2: Last year’s Holiday Bowl had a very small 2.3 on ESPN, a game that featured Texas Tech and Arizona State.

Hail Helton: Congrats to quarterback coach Clay Helton named as the 7th best coordinator/recruiter in the country by ESPN’s Recruiting Nation. Just a great guy, he is the dutiful soldier while Steve Sarkisian calls the plays. You got a glimpse into what Helton could do when he called the plays during last season’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.

Caution sign: Despite the obvious success of some of his true freshmen this season, Steve Sarkisian says that the accomplishments of JuJu Smith, Toa Lobendahn, and Adoree’ Jackson is more the exception rather than the rule.

Freshman All-Americans: Congrats to true freshman offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn and defensive back Adoree’ Jackson for being named to the ESPN True All-Freshman All-America team.

ESPN says: Regarding Toa Lobendahn’s All-America selection,The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Cerritos, California, native was enrolled in the spring, which allowed him to start all 12 games for the Trojans. He was an integral part in the success of first-team All-Pac-12 running back Buck Allen.”

ESPN says – Part 2: Regarding Adoree’ Jackson’s All-America selection, “Jackson was named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year after finishing the regular season with 42 tackles. He broke up nine passes, forced a fumble and also played some receiver and returned kicks.”

The post-game show…

Numbers game: With the switcheroo by tight end Tyler Petite (Moraga, Calif./ Campolindo High) from Duke to the Trojans for the recruiting Class of 2015, will the Men of Troy still recruit another tight end?

Déjà vu: In the 2010 Holiday Bowl, Steve Sarkisian’s Washington team had running back Chris Polk as the game’s Offensive Player of the Game. Could Sark have two running backs receive the award if Troy’s Buck Allen has a standout game?

Rapid response: Quickly now, who was the offensive and defensive players of last season’s Holiday Bowl? Okay, here’s a hint: They both came from the winning team. Give up?…… Surely you haven’t forgotten Texas Tech quarterback David Webb and linebacker teammate Will Smith.

Predication: I may get egg on my face, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that next Saturday’s Holiday Bowl will have record attendance. If it’s not a sellout, it should be close to it. What could prevent a record turnout is that Nebraska has surprisingly not sold its allotment of tickets.

Tourist traps: Okay, we acknowledge that San Diego has some great tourist attractions like its world famous zoo, LEGOLAND, and Sea World, but for me my favorite attraction resides in Balboa Park next to the famous zoo. It’s the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, which takes a 3-minute, ½-mile trip through four acres of Balboa Park.  The train is a model G16 – now a rare antique with as few as fifty currently remaining. I rode this unique miniature train as a 4-year-old, and I eventually rode the train with my own little boy. It was very nostalgic.

Katnik continuum: Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco center and shot putter Matt Katnik has announced he has accepted a full scholarship in track and field. Yes, Katnik has direct bloodlines from the famous football Katnik clan that have attended Troy over the years. At one time, there was strong speculation that Matt had his eyes set on Stanford. Yep, he’s that smart.

Katnik continuum – Part 2: Matt Katnik’s dad is former Trojans center John Katnik (1986-87). And let’s not forget his cousins, which includes the likes of former Trojans offensive lineman Norm Katnik (2001-03) and tight end Kurt Katnik (2003).

The final word:
Given the options and the destination, is there anybody unhappy the Trojans are in the National University Holiday Bowl? Didn’t think so. Merry Christmas to all, and see ya all in San Diego.

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

More Articles By Greg