December 23, 2008

USC gets ready for Rose Bowl with excitement

Typically this time of year, as a team prepares to play in a major bowl game, one of two questions can surface.

If the team has struggled for a period of time and recently turned things around, people wonder if the guys are just "happy to be there."

And in the Trojans' case, with USC headed for its fourth-consecutive trip to Pasadena, Calif., some might be worried that the Trojans aren't "happy enough to be there."

But if any of the indications from the Trojans' last week of practices hold true, excitement won't be on the list of Pete Carroll's concerns.

USC practiced this past week with a renewed spirit - showing the same kind of energy and excitement the team had prior to opening the season at Virginia.

The defense played with tons of swagger on the field, unleashing some big hits on Trojan receivers. The group talked tons of trash, much to Pete Carroll's delight, trying to get under the offense's skin.

Not to be outdone, Mark Sanchez and the USC offense responded by celebrating every score with outlandish enthusiasm. Running backs like Joe McKnight and Curtis McNeal have sent everyone at practice into a tizzy with some jaw-dropping elusiveness.

There's more than one reason why USC is acting this way.

For starter's, the Trojans are thoroughly convinced that Penn State is a very good football team.

The Nittany Lions slide to No. 8 in the final BCS standings doesn't account for the fact that Penn State was closer to being undefeated than any of the teams ahead of them - save for Utah, who finished undefeated.

Penn State's only loss came at Iowa, courtesy of a last-second field goal.

Joe Paterno's team has a deeper arsenal of offensive weapons than any other team on USC's schedule this season, with talented receivers, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback and a versatile running back.

Complacency can be nowhere in the USC game plan if the Trojans are serious about continuing their dominance over the Big Ten. Against the conference, USC has won eight straight by an average of nearly 25 points.

Despite Penn State's "loaded offense" - Carroll's words - and a talented, stifling defense, USC players seem supremely confident.

That confidence comes from Carroll's track record in January.

In the past six seasons, USC has played in BCS bowl games, and five times, they've won - convincingly. The only loss came at the hands of Texas in a 41-38 thriller for the national championship.

Trojan players know that time is on their side when it comes to playing in bowl games.

And with a match up with Penn State in one of the bowl season's best games on the horizon, there are plenty of reasons to be excited.

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