"One more year!" ... "One more year!"
The chants, of course, were directed at USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who imbedded himself in the Orange Bowl record books with a five-touchdown performance in last Tuesday night’s 55-19 beatdown of No. 2 Oklahoma at Pro Player Stadium.
But whether Leinart decides to cash in on the NFL is almost irrelevant, although he could really cement himself as one of the best of all time by going for a third straight national title and a second consecutive Heisman trophy.
College football is about to become a maroon and gold world because the Trojans could again have their hands wrapped around the Bowl Championship Series Waterford crystal trophy a year from now.
"You know, if you get to a point where you’re relying on one guy to get it done," USC coach Pete Carroll said, "then you’re not a strong program. You’re not the kind of program you want to be. We’ve gone through losses and losses and what that does is create opportunities for other guys. We all know that and understand that. That’s the way we think."
To understand Carroll’s assessment, you have to remember what the Trojans lost this season to better appreciate how they became the 10th team to repeat as Associated Press national champions.
The Trojans went undefeated and won this title without top receiver Mike Williams, who tried to follow former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett’s lead into the NFL and was declared ineligible a day before the Trojans played their first game of the 2004 season.
Then Steve Smith, who caught three TD passes in the Orange Bowl, missed six games of the season with a broken leg, leaving the Trojans to chase a national title without their two top receivers.
Now keep all this in mind and chew on this factoid: Thirty-four of USC’s top 48 offensive and defensive players are not seniors.
With that being said, it’s no wonder Leinart is strongly considering returning and taking a special place in history.
"I’ve stuck true to my word all season," said Leinart, who has until Jan. 15 to declare himself for the NFL draft. "I still plan on coming back. It’s going to take a lot for me to leave. I know I have a quick decision to make in a week or so, but it’s just something special that we’re a part of."
As it is, the Trojans have lost just three games in the last three seasons and two of those losses were to rival California.
If Leinart returns, it’s impossible to imagine USC not severely extending its 22-game winning streak. And with the BCS title game returning to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., next season the Trojans will be the favorite to repeat from the start.
Leinart would have weapons Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Smith and Dwayne Jarrett at his disposal – the same group that unloaded on the Sooners for six touchdowns. Bush, a dangerous receiver, tailback and return specialist, finished fifth in the Heisman voting and could be Leinart’s main competition for the award next year. White, who rushed for 118 yards and a pair of scores against Oklahoma, gives the Trojans a physical presence in between the tackles. Jarrett and Smith will come into next season as one of the best receiving tandems in the nation. Defensively, the Trojans’ biggest losses will be tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, but that’s about it.
Carroll isn’t ready to admit it, but he has the makings of a dynasty. Miami was close to becoming one after reaching consecutive title games in 2001 and 2002, but the Hurricanes came away with just one trophy.
"They didn’t go back-to-back like us," White said, "so they’re not even in our league."
And unlike other teams that have reached the Trojans’ heights, there will be no worries about the NFL coming to lure away Carroll. He’s been there and done that, having been a head coach twice in the NFL. And for the time being, offensive coordinator Norm Chow is returning.
"I’m going to buy a T-shirt that says, ‘Don’t hire Norm Chow,’" White said.
Better yet, how about one that reads, "USC dominance is here for the long haul"?
(c) 2005, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.