Trojans ran up the score
December 2, 2004
Last Saturday No. 1 Southern California was leading 34-10 in the fourth quarter of its football game against rival Notre Dame. There were only seven minutes left, and a demoralized Notre Dame squad had just given up 31 unanswered points. With the game all wrapped up and USC facing a fourth down just across the 50-yard line, the Trojans didn’t need to be thinking about faking a punt. But to everyone’s shock and amazement, fake the punt they did.
Rather than pinning the Fighting Irish deep in their own territory, Southern Cal’s punter surprisingly tossed a pass that drew an interference penalty and an automatic first down. The very next play, USC threw for the touchdown that made the final score 41-10.
The first main question is: What in the world was Trojan head coach Pete Carroll thinking about when he decided to fake that punt?
Did he want to rub it in the face of bitter enemy Notre Dame? Did he desperately want to get quarterback Matt Leinart a fifth touchdown pass on national television to impress Heisman Trophy voters? Did he want to influence the coaches and media who vote in their all-important polls? Or did he want to cover the point spread, which went off at 24?
Known as a players’ coach, certainly Carroll would love to see Leinart win the Heisman before heading off to the NFL. But the guess here is that Carroll was most worried about the possibility of losing poll votes, which count two-thirds to the Bowl Championship Series.
Carroll surely does not want to experience another shafting like last year when USC was forced to share the national championship with Louisiana State. The poll-topping Trojans still must play arch-rival UCLA tomorrow, and undefeateds No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Auburn are playing conference championships that could all help sway voters. The Trojans are only No. 2 in the computers which make up the other one-third of the BCS poll.
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The second main question is, in the Notre Dame game, did USC unnecessarily run up the score? The opinion here is most definitely yes. Running up the score in football has nothing to do with the actual scoring, and everything to do with the manner in which the scoring is done.
There’s nothing the matter with a sports team running its regular offense and continuing to increase a lead. Is Kobe Bryant not supposed to make a basket with one minute left and his team up by 20 points? Is Wayne Gretzky not supposed to score a goal with two minutes remaining and his team winning 6-1? Is Sammy Sosa not supposed to hit a home run in the ninth inning with his team already ahead 12-0? Of course they are.
Controversies occur in sports when coaches employ uncalled-for strategies to increase leads. By needlessly faking a punt late with a commanding lead, USC was pouring it on.
If you want to find a culprit, blame the nature of college football today. Only two teams will have the opportunity to play for the national championship, and every touchdown possibly could make a difference.
In this particular case college football has created an environment that encourages excessive scoring. The best solution is a multi-team playoff involving the top clubs. That way, most of the exaggerated scoring would happen further down the rankings, rather than in front of a national audience focusing on the top teams.
Along those lines, the teams that have the most to gain tomorrow by hammering their opponents are Auburn and California. Auburn could seduce voters by crushing Tennessee, a team it already whipped once 34-10 Oct. 2 in Knoxville. In its last four games, Tennessee has lost at home to Notre Dame, given up 29 points to South Carolina and conceded 31and 33 points to lowly Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Auburn owns nine wins of 18 points or more.
California is 0.0013 of a point ahead of Texas for the final at-large BCS berth, which most assuredly would be in the Rose Bowl. If eight voters in either poll who have Cal ranked higher than Texas switch their positions, and the rest stay the same, Texas gets the final bid. California, which has won seven games by 27 points or more, must crush Southern Mississippi tomorrow to secure its spot. Southern Miss has suffered three losses of 24 or more points in its last six games.
So, expect the Auburn and California coaches to pull out all the stops, and run up the score if they feel necessary, in order to achieve their main goals.
Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.