Pac-12: Juice Williams
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Five things to consider, underline or anticipate from the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi.
This isn't a stooge team from the Big Ten: USC has won its last eight games vs. the Big Ten by an average of 28.4 points. None of those teams, however, were the 2008 Penn State Nittany Lions. Just like a mutual fund, a bright past history doesn't mean certain future success -- see your 401(k) for supporting numbers. None of those previous teams can match Penn State, the true Big Ten champions, for motivation, talent and skill on both sides of the football.
Will USC show up with a big-game mentality? They won't admit it, but lots of USC's guys are thinking about their NFL prospects. And more than a few in previous weeks expressed regret they will play in their fourth Rose Bowl in five years instead of another BCS game. And, of course, this team started the season thinking national championship or bust. The Trojans have built a reputation as a dominant big-game team under Pete Carroll, winning five of six BCS bowl games and consistently pounding all comers from across the country. Their last regular-season nonconference loss came on Sept. 21, 2002. But will the Trojans bring the same intensity this time, when there are so many reasons for a flat performance?
Can USC's offense keep up its side of the bargain? So much has been said about the brilliance of the USC defense, the nation's best unit by almost every measure. But Penn State's D is not chopped liver. The Nittany Lions rank third in scoring defense (12.4 points per game) and fifth in total defense (264 yards per game). It should be the best unit USC has played this year, and it's no secret that, despite solid numbers, the Trojans offense has been inconsistent at times. Will PSU slow USC's run game and pressure Mark Sanchez into costly mistakes? It could happen.
USC can't let Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark make plays with his feet: USC's defensive players are tired of hearing how they struggle against mobile quarterbacks. They note that line of thinking mostly exists because of Vince Young's singular performance in the 2005 BCS title game. They point to Illinois quarterback Juice Williams from last year's Rose Bowl. But Penn State's Daryll Clark is a better all-around quarterback than Williams and he's got a vastly superior supporting cast. And he's just as mobile: See nine rushing touchdowns.
Is Oregon State relevant? Nothing stands out more on the two schedules than disparate Oregon State results. Penn State crushed Oregon State 45-14; USC lost at Oregon State 27-21. Even if you are not a believer in the transitive property of college football -- and you could also compare wildly different scoring margins vs. Ohio State -- that at least suggests there's no reason for Penn State to be intimidated. It will be hard for Penn State's players to watch film of Jacquizz Rodgers slicing through the vaunted USC defense and not imagine they will be able to do the same with Evan Royster.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images|
|USC linebacker Rey Maualuga has made a name for himself with his big hits on the field.|
See the offensive player running. See USC linebacker Rey Maualuga running toward the offensive player.
Feel the anticipation. Hear the SMACK! Share the crowd's collective gasp.
What fun.All-American honors are great. Awards are nice, too. Maualuga figures to pocket lots of that stuff in 2008.
But what sets Maualuga apart is this: He is an Internet phenomenon.
Few teams divide college football fans like the mighty Trojans. Many fans are downright exhausted and annoyed by USC's dominant run over the past six years.
But Maualuga is a uniter, not a divider. If a person appreciates football distilled to its most basic essence -- knocking the pooh out of another guy -- then it's simply impossible to not like Maualuga.
YouTube is full of highlight-reel hits from Maualuga.
That's why one Internet service named Maualuga this season's "Scariest Defender."
That's why a Maualuga neologism found its way into the online Urban Dictionary: Maualugaed. Defined as: "In football, it is used to describe when a player is absolutely destroyed by a hit. A reference to USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. Pronounced: mao-uh-loo-guhd."
And as used in a sentence: "Dude, did you just see the Michigan QB get completely maualugaed? I'm surprised he can still walk!"
SEC folks notoriously hate USC. But popular SEC blog "Every Day Should Be Saturday," (which sometimes uses adult language) has celebrated Maualuga, even once having Trojans coach Pete Carroll shoot his linebacker out of a cannon at fighter planes piloted by Charlie Weis and Lou Holtz (it sort of makes sense if you read the script that accompanies LSUFreek's graphic).
Maualuga, who likely would have been a first-round NFL draft pick this spring if he didn't opt to return for his senior season, seems mostly bemused by all the acclaim, of which he is only vaguely aware. "People e-mail me all these clips and tell me how funny it is," he said. "It's overwhelming at times. But it's just one little highlight that sort of made news."
He's referring to the infamous sideline blowup he inflicted on UCLA quarterback Pat Cowan, not his crush shot on Illinois quarterback Juice Williams that had ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit gushing, "There's the hardest hitting linebacker in college football."
Even his teammates don't escape. After USC receiver Patrick Turner -- who's no mighty mite at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds -- and Maualuga started to exchange pleasantries during a "Competition Tuesday" practice, Maualuga crawled inside his personal cannon.
"It was just one of those things where words got exchanged and I was like, 'alright.' He came through the middle. And boom," Maualuga explained.
Turner subsequently left practice with a shoulder stinger, but not before uttering a plaintive, "What the [expletive], Rey?" Turner's query promptly found its way to a T-shirt.
What's it all mean for Maualuga? Really, it's about the kids.
"It feels good to have little kids come up to you and say, 'I love that Patrick Cowan hit!' It gives you a little smile," he said.
Isn't that sweet?
Maualuga's career didn't start off sweet. During his freshman season, his father died. Maualuga also got arrested for punching a guy at a party. Life was coming at him fast and he wasn't responding well.
"It's been more than a growing process," he said. "I've learned tremendously from my actions. I was just young back then. I didn't know what I was doing. But I realized that it's not just me who's going to school. It's my family and everybody that I'm representing. So I need to show myself in a respectable way."
That's why he seems just a bit reluctant to embrace his reputation as a brutal hitter. He's aware that some extend his menace on the field to his presence off it.
"Everyone sees me as the big old guy who loves to get into trouble and loves to hit, so I'm just trying to change that image," he said.
Off the field, that is.On the field, the hits figure to keep coming.