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Thursday, October 23, 2008
Arizona doesn't want to become a BCS booster for USC

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

They say young people don't read anymore. They say no one cares about newspapers in the 21st Century. And college football teams typically claim they ignore rankings and message board chatter.

Au contraire.

USC players admitted they couldn't stop themselves from raising a curious eyebrow after seeing the BCS standings in Monday's editions of the school paper, the Daily Trojan.

"I try not to look, but I'll take a gander here or there," center Kristofer O'Dowd said.

Confessed defensive tackle Fili Moala, "I just so happened to look at them. [Pause] It looks like it should look I guess. A couple of undefeated teams in there. [Pause] But all we can do is take care of our end."

While coach Pete Carroll employs his best karate to fight off any references to the BCS big picture -- other than to tweak computers that rank Ohio State ahead of the Trojans, despite a 35-3 bludgeoning delivered on Sept. 13 -- it's clear that said big picture is part of the thought process as the season turns toward the home stretch.

Things aren't much different down at Arizona, where the Trojans, fifth in the BCS standings, are headed Saturday.

The Wildcats, along with USC, are part of a five-way logjam atop the Pac-10 after they upset California last weekend. It was a big win for the program and for coach Mike Stoops.

With an even bigger fish coming to town for homecoming, massive offensive tackle Eben Britton had a confession.

"I have a terrible habit of checking the message boards on goazcats.com -- just to see what the vibe is," he said.

The vibe had been decidedly mixed, he said, even during a 4-1 start, in large part due to a weak schedule. But things changed after the win over Cal.

"I went on Monday, just to see what they were saying now, and it was all positive," he said. "It was a huge change. There's definitely a lot more positivity around here now."

Want positivity? If Arizona were to notch the upset, it would no longer be ridiculous to point out that the Nov. 22 visit from Oregon State could determine who goes to the Rose Bowl.

We're not making that up. As of today, the Beavers and Wildcats are the only two teams in control in the Pac-10.

Let that one percolate for a moment. Of course, Arizona's win over California got USC's attention.

"Heck yeah, these guys are loaded, man," Carroll said. "They've got everything going for them."

The last time Carroll went overboard with effusive praise -- and had reporters sensing a whiff of sarcasm -- was before the Trojans took the Buckeyes to the woodshed.

Still, Arizona did seem to take a step forward when it overcame a 10-point halftime deficit against the Bears to win 42-27, a 28-3 third-quarter being the cornerstone of the run-away victory.

"I thought it showed tremendous progress within our program and with our kids," Stoops said. "We have much more confidence in what we are doing and our guys are competing much better throughout the course of games. We are a stronger team now because of it."

Britton said that offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes told the players that the halftime deficit was exactly what the Wildcats needed. Their season was on the brink, considering they'd suffered a dispiriting loss at Stanford the weekend before, and they would either respond or fold.

"We had talked about being put in a position where we were going to have to see what we were made of -- how tough this team is. And we were," he said. "That's what was really amazing, that we were able to answer that challenge. I don't think that's happened as long as I've been here. It's an exciting thing to watch and be a part of."

The Wildcats got big plays against Cal from their big-play people: quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tight end Rob Gronkowski. But it was 149 yards rushing and three touchdowns from 5-foot-7 true freshman running back Keola Antolin that provided the biggest -- and most unexpected -- spark.

USC's defense hasn't allowed a point in 10 quarters. It's without question the nation's most talented unit. But the Trojans flashed vulnerability in the first half of their loss at Oregon State, and Britton admits he sees the parallel between how diminutive Beavers freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers gashed that seemingly impregnable defense and how Antolin might duplicate the performance.

No team will outrun the Trojans defense sideline-to-sideline, so the only way to attack is to go right at them.

"Oregon State just came out and hit them in the mouth," Britton said. "They wanted to run the ball and did. They covered guys up and their running back found the holes."

Some USC players don't want to talk about the Oregon State game, but Moala called it "a blessing in disguise," because he expects the lessons of playing on the road in the Pac-10 to resonate this week.

Moala also admits that the Trojans may need to do more than just win against a remaining schedule that doesn't including any teams that are presently ranked.

Style points will matter for USC.

"I think we've become mindful of that," he said. "You have to show that dominance."

Arizona doesn't want to become an accessory supporting the Trojans case in the BCS standings. It led USC into the fourth quarter in the Coliseum last year before yielding 20-13.

With the frenzy of the 'Zona Zoo behind them, they won't suit up Saturday just to keep things respectable.

Said Britton, "It's going to be absolutely insane on Saturday. I'm jacked up thinking about it right now."