13 min Read

IMHO Sunday: The real deal

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

The real deal: One would think that just because the Trojans played UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 19, the Men of Troy would have an environmental advantage over Penn State. Well, trust me, there’s a major Rose Bowl difference playing UCLA in a Pac-12 game and playing in a “real” Rose Bowl. Be it Jan. 1 or Jan.2, the Pasadena area turns into a collegiate New Year’s wonderland and tailgate Disneyland, and when the Trojans see that gorgeous red rose residing on the 50-yard line, they’ll know, like Penn State, this is the real Rose Bowl.

The real deal – Part 2: Current Trojans junior safety Chris Hawkins has consulted former players that played UCLA at the Rose Bowl during the season and then a month later the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day, and the Trojans junior safety says, “I’ve talked to past players, and they’ve told me playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl is good, but the Rose Bowl is totally different. I went to the Rose Bowl when I was a freshman to watch Oregon play Florida State. It was nothing like the USC/UCLA game. It was crazy, one of the craziest games I’ve been to. All the Florida State fans doing ‘the chop’ and now we’re a part of it now.”

Location, location, location: When the news became official that the Trojans were going to play in the Rose Bowl, Chris Hawkins was caught in an unusual situation. Hawkins revealed, “I was at one of my fraternity brothers’ brother initiation, and he was initiating. The room was super quiet for the initiation and I had the apt on my phone and I was watching it (the ESPN bowl announcement show). When I saw it (the Rose Bowl announcement), I was going crazy in my head. I had to keep it under wraps for the time being. Being with my fraternity brothers at a prestigious school like USC and we’re all going to the Rose Bowl is one of the best feelings ever. I am so glad they choose us, and we’re going to get it done.”   

Three times the charm: Clay Helton said this week that the Trojans will treat each Rose Bowl practice week as a game week, and each week they will repeat and rehearse their Penn State game plan. Well, you can’t say they won’t be prepared when they play the Nittany Lions. Trojans fans will be hoping with three weeks of rehearsal of the same game plan, it better be the right game plan.      

Holiday season: The Trojans will again practice this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, which will allow plenty of time for holiday cheer next weekend. Practices again are not open to the public, but practice times have been moved up from the regular season routine. Normally, the Trojans practiced at 4 p.m. during the season. Most of the Rose Bowl practices are now 3 p.m., which makes sense because the Rose Bowl Game is slated to kickoff at 2 p.m.

Stay the course: A native of Antioch, California, Trojans senior co-captain and linebacker Michael Hutchings says, “I think it was definitely great to end our season at the Rose Bowl and especially for the seniors that have been through some ups and downs years, and just being a Californian who grew up watching the Rose Bowl and USC playing in the Rose Bowl, for us being back in the Rose Bowl.”

Stay the course – Part 2: Hutchings added, “I think the excitement (of the announcement) is out now. It’s now back to practice, and we’re back on the field that we’ve been eager for. Guys are happy to be back out here, school is done, and now it’s time for ball.”

Stay the course – Part 3: Asked if there will be a different feel to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 than having just played there against UCLA, Hutchings said, “I think that’s something we have in our advantage (over Penn State). We don’t have to travel far, we get to practice in our own facilities, and all this is just us going down to Pasadena. It’s huge (the Rose Bowl) and a lot of festivities surrounding it, but we can’t get caught up in it as players and focus in a stadium that we’re familiar with. If we can do that, it gives us a little bit of an advantage already.”

Moving day: The Trojans will move into their downtown Los Angeles hotel after Christmas Day.

Ticket check: A base priced end zone ticket purchased through the Rose Bowl costs $150.00. Those same area seats currently start at minimum $209 on ticket broker StubHub.

First timer: Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has coached in a Super Bowl but has never coached in a Rose Bowl Game. Asked about coaching in a Rose Bowl, Clancy said, “We’re excited about the challenge in playing a very good Penn State team that’s had a really good year, and we’ll looking for to the rest of the preparation before the game comes. I watched it (Rose Bowl) growing up, and it’s obviously one of the most storied bowl games ever, so I am really excited about coaching in it.”  

New Year’s Day: Although the football game and parade are on Monday, Jan. 2, for those staying in the Pasadena area, the New Year’s Day long range weather forecast calls for mostly sunny with a high of 64 and a low of 47 degrees. Humidity will be at 48 percent. As for Jan. 2, stay tuned.

No practice: There will be no Rose Bowl practices Dec. 23 through Dec. 27. Although understandable, that’s a long time between practices. Game week is filled with activities such as Disney’s California Adventure on Dec. 27 and a Lawry’s Prime Rib visitation on Dec. 29.

From the press box…

The Swann song: Says Trojans athletic director Lynn Swann in his December report, “It was a great November. For my first time being the athletic director during the holiday season, it’s wonderful to have the gift of a Rose Bowl. The football team finished up extraordinarily well. Give Clay Helton all the credit for keeping them focused after a 1-3 start to get to a 9-3 season and a top 10 ranking. Our hats are off to him and the football program.”

Granddaddy of Them All: Los Angeles Times college football columnist David Wharton has ranked the top 10 bowls games not to be missed, including the College Football Playoff semi-finals. You might be surprised to learn that the No. 1 bowl game not to be missed is the Rose Bowl followed by the CFP semi-finals featuring the No. 2 bowl game, the Fiesta Bowl (No. 2 Clemson/No. 3 Ohio State) and then the No. 3 bowl game, the Peach Bowl (No. 1 Alabama/No. 4 Washington). You can bet the folks at the Rose Bowl were all smiles after that article.

Granddaddy of Them All – Part 2: Wharton lists the Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24) as the worst bowl game for TV viewing. The Hawaii Bowl features a 6-7 Hawaii club against 8-4 Middle Tennessee. Fire up the popcorn, baby!

High ranking: ESPN senior writer Mark Schlabach has also ranked the most entertaining upcoming bowl games. Aside from the obvious matchups of the CFP Final Four, Schlabach writes that the third best entertaining matchup of the bowl season will be the Rose Bowl between the Trojans and Penn State.

High ranking – Part 2: Of the Rose Bowl, Schlabach writes, “Two of the hottest teams in the FBS square off in the ‘Granddaddy of Them All.’ The Nittany Lions won their past nine games after starting 2-2; the Trojans won their final eight after starting 1-3.”

No Adoree’: Adoree’ Jackson surprisingly did not make the top 10 vote getters in the final Heisman Trophy balloting, but he’s got next year…if he returns to Troy for his senior season.

Heisman numbers: Maybe it has served its purpose, but the Heisman Trophy ceremony on ESPN drew its smallest viewer numbers in history. As we all know, it’s an offensive award won by skill players and not a true reflection of the overall scheme of college talent.

IMHO: As I see it, given the choice of quarterbacks, I’ll take Sam Darnold over Washington’s Jake Browning at this stage of their young careers and it’s a no-brainer. Before the non-Trojan fans yell, “Dude, you write for WeAreSC, what did you expect?” Let me say that in the big games, Darnold rose to the occasion and Browning did not. You know what happened when the Trojans played the Huskies in Seattle, and you watched Browning in the Pac-12 title game, not exactly a stellar performance under the bright lights. Against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, Darnold did what he needed to do put his team in a position to win big and they did.

New green QB: When the Trojans travel to Notre Dame for their meeting with the Irish next Oct. 21, the Domers will have a new quarterback. 2016 QB DeShone Kizer announced early last week that he is entering the NFL draft. The irony is that Kizer was recently named a 2017 team captain at the Notre Dame Football Banquet by head coach Brian Kelly. So much for the best laid plans of mice and shamrocks.

New green QB – Part 2: Not only will the Irish have to replace their starting quarterback for 2017, but head coach Brian Kelly will also have to find a new offensive coordinator since 2016 OC Mike Sanford was announced on Thursday as the new head coach at Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers: If the name Western Kentucky sounds familiar to Trojans fans, that’s because Trojans quarterback coach Tyson Helton and offensive line coach Neil Callaway are former assistant WK coaches.

The post-game show…

State champs: Congrats to San Clemente High on winning the California State 1-A Division championship over defending state divisional champs Loomis Del Oro, 22-17, on Saturday at Sacramento State. With two interceptions, a fumble, and passing for just 92 yards yet still tossing a touchdown, Trojans quarterback commit Jack Sears might not have had his best night, but he did also provide the game-sealing interception at the very end on Del Oro’s Hail Mary final play. “SC” came back from a 17-point deficit and exploded for 22 straight points. A little advice, don’t judge Jack by Saturday’s game; he’s a tremendous prospect, so help me Sam Darnold.

State champs – Part 2: I won’t go as far to say that CIF State Open Division champion Bellflower St. John Bosco is the best high school team I’ve ever seen, but after watching Saturday night’s destruction of legendary Concord De La Salle in the title game, 56-33, I am prepared to say – after watching high school football since 1964 – the St. John Bosco offensive line is about as good as it gets at the prep level, especially in the run game (358 yards rushing against De La Salle). Leading the way against De La Salle was Trojans offensive line recruit Wyatt Davis, currently an Ohio State commit who is now said to be strongly reconsidering the Trojans. And let’s not forget that Trojans starting junior offensive left guard Damien Mama, a second team All-Pac-12 selection, is a former St. John Bosco superstar lineman and Wyatt is a guard as well. Can you see the transition allure?

Credibility: With the Trojans having All-Pac-12 first-team tackles in Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, St. John Bosco’s Wyatt Davis can see that the offensive line coaching at USC, under the direction of Trojans offensive line coach Neil Callaway, certainly takes a backseat to no one. The recruiting battle for Davis between the Trojans and the Buckeyes, especially for a player in Troy’s own backyard, promises to be a heavyweight fight to the finish.

The parade: It makes for a long day, but how can you resist seeing the Rose Parade in person when the Trojans Marching Band and Traveler make their appearance marching down Colorado Blvd?

Ho, ho, ho: Yes, that was Trojans head coach Clay Helton recently dressed as Santa Claus while visiting the local USC community for the holiday season. Helton, who brought along some of his players, caught a bit of good natured social media barb from some of his other players regarding Santa’s “belly” bulge.

Raking in the dough: Former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin can never complain that he hasn’t made a comfortable living making millions as an oft-fired head football coach. Whether it’s college or pro, Kiffin’s bank account always comes out on top. The latest supplier of Kiffin’s monetary security is now provided by Florida Atlantic, which hired “The Visor” for a reported one million. Now entering his fourth stint as a head coach, we should all be so fortunate and to think this fella is just 41-years-old.

The benefactor: Upon getting the Florida Atlantic job, Lane Kiffin sent out a letter to the community that read he will personally make a donation to a university scholarship fund for every season ticket sold. And, anyone who buys a season tickets also will get an autographed photo of Kiffin. FYI, in Florida Atlantic’s last home game, the attendance was announced as just under 6,000 fans. Oh, and asked why he would come to a downtrodden program like Florida Atlantic, Kiffin said he wants “to do it better than it’s ever been done before.” Hmm, didn’t a certain head coach with the Seattle Seahawks use that same phrase when getting a job?

The benefactor: No surprise that once Lane Kiffin was off to Florida Atlantic, Alabama head coach Nick Saban announced he would replace his outgoing offensive coordinator with another former Trojan, Steve Sarkisian, who has been working behind the scenes with the Crimson Tide offense. So, I guess if Clay Helton ever needs an OC job, one is waiting at Alabama, home of former Trojan offensive coordinators, so help me Norm Chow.  

The last word: Penn State coach James Franklin says that his football might have been disappointed that they didn’t make the CFP semi-finals, but he claims the Nittany Lions will suffer no such “letdown” when they face the Trojans. Probably not, but we almost can guarantee that Clay Helton’s USC Trojans probably would have suffered an initial letdown if they didn’t get to the Rose Bowl, especially considering they beat both Washington and Colorado this past season.

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.

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