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Michigan, USC ready for Rose Bowl's stage

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  • Michigan, USC ready for Rose Bowl's stage

    Michigan, USC ready for Rose Bowl's stageBy Ivan Maisel

    BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The Rose Bowl can give come-hither looks with its history, its tradition and its physical attributes. So, too, can Michigan and USC. Both teams reached the velvet ropes of the BCS Championship Game only to be turned away and directed westward. Both teams have had to parry questions about motivation and desire in the wake of their season-ending defeats.

    Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
    Lloyd Carr can't believe some people don't understand how special the Rose Bowl is.The coaches of both teams, in their final pregame news conference Sunday at the Beverly Hilton, tried their best to illustrate the shortsightedness of such questions without declaring the questioners on mental vacation.

    "You just don't get it," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "The kids are jacked up. The coaches are. The fans will be. Had you not asked the questions, it would have been left behind."

    "There's something special about New Year's Day," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said, "something special about going into that incredible setting, the Arroyo Seco, the mountains. You know you have an opportunity to play in a very, very special game. It's not really hard to sell it."

    "Those are awesome football games," Carroll said of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 game that the Trojans aren't playing in. "But they are not better. They are not better than what this is. The day you play, the game you're playing, the team across the field from you, that's the whole world. It doesn't matter what trophy they hand you . Look at the explosion of the Boston College victory [Saturday in the Meineke Car Care Bowl]. That kid kicks the field goal and they win and the team goes crazy. On that moment, on that day, it was the biggest thing in the world."

    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    Pete Carroll knows how he'll react if USC can snap its Rose Bowl losing streak Monday.Either No. 3 Michigan (11-1) or No. 8 USC (10-2) will leave a two-game losing streak behind at the 2007 Rose Bowl presented by Citi on Monday (ABC, 5 p.m. ET). The Wolverine seniors lost the Rose Bowl as freshmen and sophomores. The Trojans lost the Rose Bowl a year ago and, on the same field, lost to UCLA a month ago.

    There's little reason to believe Michigan will play the same way it played in losing to USC, 28-14, in 2004, and Texas, 38-37, in 2005. As Carr said Sunday, "This team defensively is a much better team than we were three years ago." Michigan has allowed only 14.6 points and 43 rushing yards per game.

    The Michigan offense is much better, too, thanks largely to the switch to a zone-blocking scheme for the running game from the traditional gaps Michigan has created for decades. The new scheme has been a godsend for junior tailback Mike Hart, a skilled reader of a play as it develops.

    The new running game, and Hart's ability to stay healthy, transformed the Wolverines into the best rushing team in the Big Ten (189.2 yards per game) and, Carr added, the running game "marries up" with the passing game better than it did three years ago. The offensive line crumbled against USC in that Rose Bowl, allowing nine sacks of quarterback John Navarre.

    "They give you so many different blitzes," Carr said. "They're going to bring the two inside guys. They're going to bring all their safeties, all the secondary except the wide corner. They're going to drop eight and rush three. They give you so many different looks, a lot of different personnel packages. They are very, very talented, very, very quick."

    Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
    Mike Hart is a big reason Michigan was the Big Ten's best rushing team in 2006.The USC defense is different, as well, and not in an ideal way. The Trojans forced only 20 turnovers in 12 games, roughly half of what the defense produced (42 in 13 games) three years ago.

    "I think we've struggled with that a little bit this year, in part because our defense is so young," middle linebacker Oscar Lua said Saturday, according to a transcript. Lua is one of two seniors listed as a starter or co-starter on defense (he started three games, and sophomore Rey Maualuga started nine). " It might have been why we had such tight games earlier this year. But the emphasis has always been there."

    Lua alluded to an increase in turnovers later in the season. The Trojans forced 10 in their past five games. There's no reason to think USC can just flip the sack-and-turnover switch against Michigan junior quarterback Chad Henne. The Wolverines lost only 10 turnovers this season, evidence of Henne's increased maturity.

    Carr said that Henne has all the "measurables," but only after he listed the attributes that warm a coach's heart.

    "I think first of all [a quarterback] has to be tough mentally, as well as physically, and Chad Henne is a tough guy," Carr said. "He has to be intelligent. He has to have all the understanding to communicate . He is not a guy that's very emotional, but he is a fiery, intense competitor, and you wouldn't necessarily know that unless you've been around him."

    Michigan has more quickness than its previous two Rose Bowl teams brought to Pasadena, if not as much as USC will bring Monday. The Wolverines have an edge in experience, too. The question to be answered is not so much whether the teams will bounce back emotionally from their regular-season-ending losses. It is whether they will play like the teams that reached the threshold of the BCS Championship Game.

    Who do you want to win? Michigan or USC?

    The poll is expired.

Related Topics


  • DJRamFan
    Rose's dream is Big Ten vs. Pac-10 AND title game
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 5, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    CHICAGO -- There's a unique opportunity for the Pac-10 and Big Ten in 2005. For the second time in BCS history, the Rose Bowl is the site of the national championship game after this season. Assuming that USC is the prohibitive No. 1 favorite going in, that puts the pressure on the Big Ten to make it a 1-2 natural matchup for the national championship.

    Heisman winner Matt Leinart is expected to lead USC to a Rose Bowl berth. (Getty Images)
    That's something that hasn't happened in 37 years.

    It seems amazing the last time the Rose Bowl's anchor teams met while ranked 1-2 in the Associated Poll was Jan. 1, 1969. Ohio State beat USC 27-16. A "rematch" of sorts could be looming, although considering the strength of the Big Ten, Ohio State is in for a battle to win the league. Michigan was named the favorite this week at the Big Ten preseason media days.

    "Anyone going in against USC would be the underdog," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "That would be a little bit of motivation, I think."

    Only twice in history have the 1-2 teams in the AP poll from those conferences met in Pasadena (the other year was 1963). That shows how much fans of both leagues care about such an occurrence. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr has said in the past he valued a Rose Bowl berth over a national championship shot.

    But this year, the stars are aligning for a Big Ten vs. Pac-10 championship game in the shadow of the San Gabriels on Jan. 4. No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Ohio State and No. 10 Iowa all start the season ranked in the top 10 in the coaches poll. USC, which brings a 22-game winning streak into the season, is led by Heisman winner Matt Leinart.

    "We definitely want to get there no matter who we're playing, but we'd definitely like to get a shot at USC," Michigan running back Michael Hart said. "Whoever wins the Big Ten this year and goes undefeated, they have no choice but to put you in the national championship game because the Big Ten is so strong this year."

    There is some recent history. Michigan was the victim 20 months ago when the USC started its championship run with a 28-14 victory over the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl.

    To say Carr is obsessing over that game might be too strong, but he does remember it. Michigan was trailing only 7-0 in the second quarter when John Navarre's pass hit Braylon Edwards' heel. USC's Lofa Tatupu intercepted and ran it back to the Michigan 3. USC scored easily to make it 14-0.

    "They got a hell of a break when the ball hit Braylon in the heel," Carr said. "We never got back in it. If you look at the teams (they beat), they get them down, they kill...
    -08-08-2005, 06:18 AM
  • DJRamFan
    USC vs. Oklahoma: As close to perfect as BCS can get
    by DJRamFan
    Jan. 01, 2005 wire reports

    MIAMI -- Pete Carroll calls this one the perfect matchup, and in many ways it is: USC vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national title.


    Preseason favorites to make it to Miami, the Trojans and Sooners were No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls all year. They feature the last two Heisman Trophy winners and about a dozen All-Americans between them.

    Two of college football's most storied and tradition-rich programs, Oklahoma and Southern California have 11 AP national titles combined.

    Of course, rarely is anything ever perfect when the Bowl Championship Series is involved.

    Just ask Auburn.

    The top-ranked Trojans (12-0) and No. 2 Sooners (12-0) meet Tuesday night for a national championship that will wrap up the college football season, but not necessarily the debate over who's No. 1.

    On Monday night, No. 3 Auburn puts its 12-0 record on the line against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to finish a perfect season that will compare favorably with the Orange Bowl winner's.

    "It stinks the way it played out this year for them," Oklahoma quarterback Jason White said. "They're a great team. They probably deserve to be in this championship game just as much as either one of us. But that's the way it worked out."

    USC and Oklahoma were right at the center of last year's BCS mess. The Trojans were left out of the BCS title game despite being No. 1 in the polls. The Sooners got in despite a lopsided loss in the Big 12 championship game.

    In the end, USC finished on top in The Associated Press Top 25 and LSU beat Oklahoma to win the BCS crown.

    "We were playing for the title in our minds last year," said Carroll, the Trojans' coach. "But this year there's an added dimension."

    The BCS guys were determined to make sure a consensus No. 1 would never again be left out of the title game, so this year's formula emphasized the polls over the computers.

    One problem solved.

    Next problem: There are three unbeaten teams, all clearly worthy of a spot in the title game. For that, there is no BCS solution.


    "I'd love to see a playoff, though this does feel a little like a playoff," Carroll said. "But I'm not hopeful for that."

    At least this season neither title game participant is being labeled undeserving, as the Sooners were last season after being throttled 35-7 by Kansas State for the Big 12 championship.

    With a chance to redeem themselves, the Sooners fell flat in the Sugar Bowl. A battered White looked little like a Heisman Trophy winner in the 21-14 loss to LSU.

    The Sooners turned...
    -01-01-2005, 02:58 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Purdue, Michigan headed in opposite directions
    by DJRamFan
    Oct. 25, 2004 wire reports

    WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Just over two weeks ago, Purdue was undefeated and looked to be shifting the balance of power in the Big Ten.


    Wisconsin and Michigan had other ideas.

    The Boilermakers had Bowl Championship Series aspirations heading into their two-game homestand against the Badgers and Wolverines, but those hopes were dashed after two losses by a combined five points.

    Purdue (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) has slipped from No. 5 in the AP Top 25 to No. 17 and now is left looking for answers.

    "Things haven't really gone our way lately," running back Brandon Jones said. "We've made a couple key mistakes in key situations. We just have to look past that and bounce back as a team."

    The Boilermakers lost 16-14 on Saturday to streaking Michigan (7-1, 5-0). The Wolverines have won six in a row and every week look more like the most complete team in the Big Ten.

    Michigan kept pace with Wisconsin as the only teams with perfect conference records.

    The Wolverines' two freshmen -- quarterback Chad Henne and running back Michael Hart -- have led the way, improving with each game.

    Hart has been sensational the last two weeks, running for 234 yards against Illinois and 206 against Purdue. And he's benefiting from the considerable talent around him that has come together after an early season loss to Notre Dame.

    "I think Michael Hart has a good offensive line in front of him, he's got good receivers that will block well, and he's got coaches that always seem to design a way to get him the football," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "He's a special kid."

    Purdue's defense would find it hard to argue after being carved up by the teenager.

    "He's a freshman, but that boy has three more years of dominating," Purdue safety Bernard Pollard said. "He's a very good back."

    And the kind of player that always seems to choose Michigan over Purdue.


    In his eighth season at Purdue, coach Joe Tiller has helped the once-moribund Boilermakers move into the upper echelon of the conference. But after being pushed around by the bigger, stronger, faster Wolverines for the fourth consecutive time, it's clear he still has some work to do.

    "All we need is to be able to recruit everybody two inches taller than (the Boilermakers) are today, 25 pounds heavier than they are today and two or three-tenths of a second faster than they are today," Tiller said. "All of those guys happened to be on the other sideline. So we will continue in our system, and our guys playing their tails off. Given the ability they have, we'll continue to fight the good fight."...
    -10-25-2004, 06:03 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Texas A&M, fired-up fans ready for Volunteers
    by DJRamFan
    Dec. 31, 2004 wire reports

    DALLAS -- The folks at Texas A&M could care less that the Cotton Bowl is an aging stadium, that the New Year's Day game played there starts early and that the weather is often cold, wet or both.


    To the Aggies, the tradition and nearby location of the Cotton Bowl makes it a dream destination -- especially this season.

    The only thing better than rebounding from 4-8 to 7-4 is getting to cap it with not only their first bowl trip since 2001, but a return to their favorite game after seven years away.

    An added bonus: A&M fans will be rooting against a team dressed in orange that goes by the initials UT.

    OK, so it's Tennessee, not rival Texas, and the Volunteers wear a lighter shade than the Longhorns. Still, the Texas A&M faithful will be swaying in the stands, kissing their dates after scores and trying to be as much of a 12th Man as if this game was played a few hours away in College Station.

    "Kyle Field North," coach Dennis Franchione said with a smile, referring to his team's home stadium. "This is a special place and I think we will have a good contingent of maroon in that stadium on Saturday."

    Game officials are expecting a crowd of 75,000, the biggest since 1978. Rain is in the forecast, but likely in the afternoon, so the 10 a.m. kickoff could be a good thing.

    Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer knows the supposedly neutral-site game will be a hostile atmosphere, so he prepared as if he was headed to an SEC rival's turf. Practices were held with loud noise blaring, including the "Aggie War Hymn."

    Fulmer also noted that oddsmakers are favoring the No. 22 Aggies over the No. 15 Volunteers (9-3).

    "We certainly respect that we are in Texas," Fulmer said.

    The teams have played only once, a 3-0 victory by the Volunteers in the 1957 Gator Bowl. It was the last game that Bear Bryant coached the Aggies.

    Despite their combined seven losses, both teams can consider their seasons quite successful. After all, two of Tennessee's losses were to No. 3 Auburn, while A&M lost three times to teams now ranked in the top six: Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

    The Volunteers didn't know what to expect this season as they broke in a mostly new secondary and an entirely new crop of quarterbacks. After relying on two freshmen QBs most of the season, injuries have forced them to turn to junior transfer Rick Clausen.

    Clausen, whose older brother Casey started Tennessee's last four bowl games including the 2001 Cotton, won his first two starts then lost to Auburn in the SEC championship after getting the Vols within a field goal early in the fourth quarter. Freshman Brent Schaeffer could play for the first...
    -12-31-2004, 03:03 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Michigan football comes up big in must-win games
    by DJRamFan
    By Stephanie Wright Michigan Daily
    Ann Arbor, MI (U-WIRE) -- It was a combination of relief and redemption.

    Seconds after Garrett Rivals's field goal sailed through the uprights, the Michigan sideline emptied. Players gathered in a circle and started chanting, "It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine" as they jumped around and pumped their fists in the air.

    A week's worth of pressure had just disappeared.

    "When Michigan State is ranked ahead of you and you're Michigan, it's not good," tailback Mike Hart said. "There's pressure there. That's just pressure in itself. If Michigan had lost, it would have confirmed every criticism aimed at the program this season. Spread offenses own this defense. Chad Henne has succumbed to the sophomore slump. Lloyd Carr can't coach. Michigan isn't the powerhouse it used to be.

    But by beating the Spartans in overtime for the second straight season, the Wolverines proved all their critics wrong.

    No one expected this Michigan team - which blew leads against Notre Dame and Wisconsin - to hold on against the Spartans' high-powered offense. But Henne matched Drew Stanton throw for throw, and the defense allowed 21 points - 28 fewer than Michigan State's season average.

    No one expected Hart to be so spectacular in his return from injury, or wide receiver Carl Tabb to step up in place of the injured Steve Breaston. But Hart, Tabb and the rest of the offense wanted this game and accumulated 488 yards of total offense - the most it has gained in a contest all season.

    And certainly no one expected Carr to go for it on back-to-back fourth downs late in the game.

    But we should have expected nothing less. After all, it's been a long time since Michigan lost a game it absolutely had to win.

    Let's be honest: As much as we wish it could, even a program as storied as this one can't expect to win a national title every year. Teams have little control over their destinies in the BCS; it's not fair to call this season a failure simply because Michigan won't win a national title.

    Carr recognized long ago that winning the Big Ten should be the Wolverines' ultimate focus, and, in case you forgot, he's led his team to five conference titles in the past eight years. I'll guarantee Michigan will never give up its title without a fight under Carr.

    Notre Dame is a big game every year, but it's not really a must-win, because losing it doesn't affect Michigan's chances for the conference crown. In this era of parity in the Big Ten, teams can still win the title with one conference loss. True must-win games don't begin until after Michigan has a Big Ten loss. And this is when the Wolverines are most dangerous.

    The 2003 season is a perfect example. Michigan recorded two early losses to Oregon and...
    -10-03-2005, 04:25 PM