Dec 23

By Popular Demand, a Throwback Football Column: My 2003 Orange Bowl Diary

As I put the finishing touches on my preview of Friday night’s Holiday Bowl game between USC and Iowa, I’ve received a number of requests from friends and followers to repost a piece I originally wrote during my duties as a Pac-10 columnist for ThePigskinPost.com in January 2003 about my trip to the Orange Bowl in Miami for the last USC-Iowa meeting.

Suffice it to say, this one’s a bit different than the work I do now for USCFootball.com (and the mentions of Ryan Abraham in the story will give readers a sneak peek at just how far Ryan’s business has come since the early days of college football message boards). I have to thank Iowa’s fans for the inspiration. I didn’t head down to Miami with a plan to write this story … but by New Year’s morning, their bluster and bravado made it a no brainer.

Without further ado, here it is: my 2003 Orange Bowl Diary.

***

Hog … Err, Hawk Tied! The Orange Bowl Experience

Coming to you live and in color from Miami, it’s the 2003 FedEx Orange Bowl (and surrounding experiences) pitting the tradition-steeped, big-city, used-to-70 degrees in December USC Trojans of the Pac-10 against the “Gollllllllly, it ain’t 33 degrees here in January!” Iowa Hawkeyes from the Big 10. That’s right, for your reading pleasure, this reporter dipped himself deep into the thick south Florida air to bring you this report of the Orange Bowl experience.

After all, it was the first trip to the “OB” (as the game is affectionately called by locals) for both schools. And for a reporter/fan whose biggest impressions of major bowl games rely almost exclusively on Rose Bowl memories, what an opportunity to see how the boys in the orange coats run the show on the other coast. So, with no further ado, let’s get to it:

Tuesday, Dec. 31

“Welcome to American Airlines flight 280 – non-stop service from Los Angeles to Miami International …”

Does the pilot realize he doesn’t have to ramble for four minutes each time he reminds us we’re going to be flying around that “nasty southeast storm”? I mean, he’s killing me because I can already barely grasp what Marlon Brando’s getting at during our feature film, “The Score” …

Does Brando get a “per-mumble” percentage? …

Old thief DeNiro running a jazz dinner club in Montreal? There aren’t enough drugs in the world to get me to come up with that one, let alone turn it into a reasonably successful and enticing caper …

People in Montreal must not be too smart if they’re easily falling for Ed Norton’s “RainMan” act at the museum …

Nothing like a silver-dollar size piece of ham to tide you over until you get off the plane …

Why do people applaud when a plane lands? Aren’t the pilots just doing their job? Someone should applaud me when I wrap an interview with Leeza Gibbons or Daisy Fuentes for my day job …

What will be the first of many “Go Hawks! USC sucks!” is screamed into my face as I quietly try to relieve myself in the airport bathroom. I thought it was just a freak occurrence. I should have known better …

Dodge Intrepid – surprisingly nice ride, leather seats, roomy. Thank goodness for expense accounts …

That’s right, it’s a work trip – trying to nail down a cover feature on Erik Estrada in a meeting on Friday (Ponch, baby!) …

Surprisingly, the Intrepid’s stock stereo system makes my Trojan Marching Band CD sound epic rolling into South Beach …

A quick stop in the room – unpack, freshen up, note the full selection of cable channels (I mean full cable, not that 30-channel smidgen most hotels offer – sweet!), and roll out to the Clevelander …

It’s New Year’s Eve in South Beach. Need I say more? Shrimp cocktail, one pound of stone crabs, a slice of key lime pie and a bottle of champagne later, I’m ready to drink …

Meet fellow Trojans Andy and Joel at the bar. We’re severely outnumbered (as Trojans will be all week until the scoreboard starts working on Thursday night), but ready to throw back some adult beverages and celebrate the New Year with a few hundred other revelers surrounding the Clevelander’s pool …

You have to kick off the festivities with a Maker’s Mark on ice …

Andy and Joel flag down a pair of Kiwi girls (you know, girls from New Zealand … try to keep up, Jethro) they’d met the night before. Throw in a blonde Purdue grad and her boyfriend, and now the party’s on. Who knew the best-looking Big 10 girl in Miami this week wouldn’t be from Iowa? Ok, ok, grads of other Big 10 schools, put your hands down …

Now, it’s time for the 13th “Go Hawks! USC sucks!” on the night (Let’s just refer to that as “GHUS” for space’s sake the rest of the column). I’d ask them to act like they’ve been there before, but I know most of them haven’t (and, no, the Alamo Bowl or your local Piggly Wiggly doesn’t count) …

Midnight, fireworks, “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Let’s Go Hawks” …

Wednesday, Jan. 1

There’s no stopping this party. It’s pouring rain and about 400 people are whooping it up as if it were a clear, dry night …

“GHUS” no. 22 finally causes me to crack to Andy, “Methinks there might be a lot of disappointed large folks dressed in yellow about 48 hours from now.” …

Thank goodness for the time change – 4 a.m. feels like 1 a.m. and we’re still going strong …

We meet the reputed “long snapper” from the early-mid 1990s Trojan teams. I mean, he’s a big guy and he’s got a USC football ring? Even if he wasn’t a player, wouldn’t you go around giving that impression too? Heck, O.J. gives people the idea he actually graduated from USC …

Finally, it’s crash time. 5:15 a.m., but first the cab driver decides he needs to tell me and the couple who are sharing the cab about his big plans to split stock tomorrow. Dude, if you’re a financial player, what are you doing driving a cab around SoBe five hours into the New Year? …

I must have some sort of mental alarm clock. At 11:05 a.m., I wake up and turn on the TV to find the Rose Parade getting underway. It’s weird watching the Rose Parade from 3,000 miles away, especially when you’ve seen the last four in person …

What’s with the float with the kid on the toilet thinking he’s a spaceman? Was Hunter Thompson consulted on this …

The only thing now rivaling the number of screaming Hawks bellowing “GHUS” in my face is the number of Rose Parade floats centered around the centennial of the Wright Bros.’ first flight. Now, there’s a flight that should have been applauded at its termination point …

It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, and there are four football games on. Should I crawl out of bed yet? I didn’t think so …

So, ok, by 2 p.m., the guilt sets in and I’m off to Hollywood Beach, Fla., for the “Patch Beach Bash” official Orange Bowl beach party …

What is it with the Orange Bowl and its jersey patch? They sell them everywhere, you get a discount to certain OB events if you buy one, but really, what’s the big deal? I mean, it’s a freaking jersey patch – a Rose Bowl patch, now there’s something impressive (and you can’t get your hands on one either). Of course, I had my OB patch with me all week …

20 miles of Florida Hwy. A1A later, I’m in Hollywood Beach and it’s pouring again. It’s also clear that no matter how seedy the worst parts of Hollywood, Calif., are, they’ve got nothing on the beachfront sections of Hollywood Beach, Fla. I do feel safe here because the Iowa fans look like bigger and more obvious targets …

I get to the Beach Bash just in time to catch the USC band’s performance in the downpour for 20 Trojans and about 500 Iowans. I flee during the Iowa band’s reasonably solid performance, if only to avoid the upcoming appearances by SHeDAISY and Juanes (don’t ask me – I haven’t the foggiest) …

Before I got to Pro Player Stadium, I thought the PA announcer at the Beach Bash was bad. At one point, he referred to the “University of Iowa Buckeyes.” I’m not from the Midwest, so I’m not sure who that’s more of an affront to at this point (though, after two more days in Miami, I’m thinking it’s Ohio State) …

Brainpower alert: USC fans have the “SoCal Spellout” cheer (that’s right, fans spell out all 18 letters in “Southern California” in a rhythmic cheer). Iowa fans have an Iowa spellout of sorts. It goes, “I … O … WA!” That’s right, “Iowa” is a three-letter word, and the newest letter in the alphabet is “WA” …

Back to Miami for the USC rally at the downtown JW Marriott. Scheduled drinking start: 5 p.m. Scheduled band appearance: 7:30 p.m. …

I run into Ryan, the creator and moderator of USCFootball.com, in the ballroom lobby outside the bar showing the Rose Bowl …

Trojan fans are packed into the bar and about 99 percent are rooting strongly for Washington State. Unfortunately, Mike Price’s team looks like Price is already in Tuscaloosa …

Into the ballroom with about 4,000 other Trojans. The spirit level is higher than I’ve ever seen at one of these pep rallies. As the band files in, the crowd is shoulder-to-shoulder and chest-to-back and roaring …

Midway through the rally, Dr. Art Bartner, longtime director of the band, tells the crowd, “This is the best USC pep rally we’ve ever had.” …

I’m ready for the game to start right now …

Instead, it’s back to SoBe, which is overrun with more Iowa fans than the preceding night thanks to a 20,000-strong rally held at the nearby Miami Beach Convention Center. I have to say, at this point, aside from the not-a-few jerks who have been in my face, I’m truly impressed with the Iowa support …

“GHUS” nos. 33-35 on the trip occur all at the same time, when three Hawkeye/Abercrombie & Fitch Big & Tall poster boys scream at me as I attempt to eat my dinner. It’s followed by the first “you can’t spell ‘suck’ without USC” blast. How novel … My retort? “Guess what, pal? After the game, I get to go back to California. You have to go back to Iowa.” …

This Sugar Bowl game is, uh, poor at best. Florida State is playing their 22nd-string QB (and starting wideout), but Georgia can’t put them away. Still, do I ever wish I were there instead. USC-Georgia would have been a great game on the field. Georgia fans on the Internet have been nothing but great. And the scenery in the stands and on Bourbon Street thanks to a Trojan-Bulldog pairing? Whoa …

Time for an early night. I want to be fully prepared for tomorrow, and I know I won’t be sleeping in too long in the morning. Back to the hotel at 1 a.m. for a little cable viewing and some shuteye…

Thursday, Jan. 2

Tailgating in Miami, Jan. 2, 2003.

Up and ready to go by 12:30 p.m. Game ticket, check. Carson Palmer jersey, check. SC Orange Bowl hat, check. Camera, check. OB patch around my neck, check …

Ah, Jerry’s Famous Deli. Breakfast at 1 p.m. Feels like home …

Rolling up I-95 to Pro Player Stadium by 2:15 p.m. TMB CD in full effect …

The clerk at the Winn Dixie supermarket on Ives Dairy Road (3 miles from Pro Player) says to me as I pay for my Rolling Rock, “Wow, everybody comes in here is goin’ to the Super Bowl!” I choose not to correct her since I don’t think it would matter. Whew, not the sharpest knife in the drawer …

Into the stadium lot, and we’re surrounded by Hawkeyes. Angry Hawkeyes. I’m not sure why they’re so mad, really. Our two teams haven’t played in 26 years and I have no animosity toward Iowa fans other than what I’ve built up in the preceding 36 hours – thanks to these same angry Hawkeyes walking around Miami …

Fortunately, there are about 4-5 Trojan cars around mine and we group together about 15 of us for our own tailgate party …

Angry Hawkeyes pelt a van full of ’SC fans trying to park with beer and apparent insults. Shouldn’t these people be happy? After all, it’s 77 degrees and their team, which was 1-10 three seasons ago, is playing in the Orange Bowl …

Here comes the Ford F350 with the full backyard barbeque grill bracketed tight in the bed to park across from us. And its license plate is from … California?! Sweet …

It’s got three couples in their early 50s. The men drove from Cali starting the previous Friday. The women flew in on New Year’s Eve. And they’ve got the full tailgate setup – tables, chairs, CD player blaring the Stones, alcohol, snacks, honeybaked ham. Not to mention the 4 lb. slab of tri-tip that’s been marinating in a cooler all the way across the country …

Now that’s tailgating …

A group of Trojans just a couple years younger than me – Scott, Jeff, Andreas and Colleen – are offering me beers and BBQ. Plus, Jeff’s an SC grad, with Iowa State parents, who lives in Des Moines. I think I’ve found the one Trojan in the stadium for whom this game is the most important. “I need to be able to go home,” Jeff tells me – more than once …

Dusk begins to settle over the stadium and a few beers and a couple hours of commingling have made Iowa fans a little friendlier. Now, you can even discuss the game with them, as long as you don’t say anything specific about the advantages USC may or may not hold …

That doesn’t mean “GHUS” nos. 55-65 don’t occur on the walk into the stadium …

My seats end up being in the end zone, just above the Trojan band. Two rows above Jeff and his pals. And just one row above and a seat over from Ryan of USCFootball.com, who is feeling the pregame liquids and fired up …

Of course, I’m not exactly Mr. Sobriety at this point …

I pick up a message on my cell phone from my dad right before kickoff. It says, “Uh, I just wanted to remind you in case you weren’t aware … YOU’RE AT THE F***ING ORANGE BOWL GAME!” Nice …

17 seconds into the game, Iowa fan is certain of victory. The 100-yard kickoff return by C.J. Jones is an Orange Bowl record. 7-0 Hawks …

Palmer to Kareem Kelly for 65 yards. Fargas in the end zone moments later. Order restored. 7-7 …

How does Iowa line up offside three times in one quarter? …

Matt Grootegoed sacks Brad Banks, the key play in holding Iowa to a FG. 10-7 Hawks …

The PA announcer needs to chill with his, “There’s a … flaaaaaaaaaag … on the plaaaaaay” line. What a loser …

Did someone forget to tell the PA sound guys in the press box that this is a college football game, not an NFL game, and you don’t need lame dance contests while blaring “YMCA” over the stadium speakers? That’s what the marching bands are for, Dolphin Boy …

The Trojan offense looks very conservative inside the red zone. What would have been touchdowns in previous games turn into a missed FG and a made FG. 10-10 …

Think Norm Chow is setting up the Iowa defense for the second half? Me too …

Banks misses his receiver on a likely TD pass from the one-yard line and, two Hawk penalties later, USC blocks a Nate Kaeding FG attempt at the halftime gun. Momentum-turner? …

The Orange Bowl Halftime Show – nothing spectacular. A bunch of no-name music “stars” lip-synching. Woo-freakin-hoo. Let’s play football …

The second half starts. The Iowa defense looks gassed. Palmer to Mike Williams. 17-10 …

Iowa’s second-half highlight? Downing a punt at the USC one-yard line. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, 99 yards and seven plays later, it’s 24-10 …

With USCFootball.com founder Ryan Abraham at the 2003 Orange Bowl.

Ryan has no voice, but that doesn’t keep him from rolling out “covered wagons” and other assorted smack at the drunk and becoming-more-depressed Iowa fans behind us. I guess he’d heard enough Iowa fans running their mouths all week, too …

31-10 as USC slams the ball down the Iowa defense’s throat again, and our section starts the “We’re not physical!” chant at the remaining Iowa fans. Thanks, Fred Barr …

It’s party time in the stands as the 17,000-strong group of USC fans are again nearly alone in a stadium. Trojan fans have grown used to being abandoned by opposition fans in recent weeks (Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame, now Iowa) …

38-10 and Jeff’s feeling good about his trip back to Des Moines …

Finally, mercifully, Iowa scores against USC’s second- and third-stringers …

Unfortunately, it was 59 minutes and nine seconds of game time and a 38-3 USC run before the Hawks got in the end zone again …

38-17. “Conquest.” Palmer and Pete Carroll tossing oranges from the bowl and MVP trophies out to the team. Carroll then taking the bandstand with the Trojan sword and leading one last version of “Conquest.” What a feeling …

It’s much quieter now in the stadium halls and parking lot. The few Iowa fans that are left out here seem to have run out of their big words sometime around 9:45 p.m. Something must have changed their mood …

Only in Miami: On the drive back to SoBe, I see this billboard on a building on the side of the I-95: “MR. BIDET. For a healthy, clean tush. 981-1111.” I bet Iowa fans could use one of those right about now …

Back in SoBe and I run into New Year’s Eve Andy and Joel again, this time with their pal Gus. It’s time for a 2 a.m. dinner! How about the 18 oz. strip steak at Finnegan’s Way along with a Guinness? Now, that hits the spot …

The 30 Trojan fans in the place blast a “SoCal Spellout” when the highlights come on ESPN. This leaves the five Iowa fans at the bar even quieter than they were …

The walk back to the hotel for some sleep before my morning interview (work trip, remember) and flight home yields this overheard conversation snippet from a pair of young Iowans huddled close in a light rain:

  • Female: “I’d never seen the ocean until yesterday!”
  • Male: (in an astonished, this-must-be-a-cosmic-union voice): “Neither had I.”

I guess the trip wasn’t a total loss, then, right? …

This mystifying exchange is followed rapidly by one of the local female hospitality engineers running across Collins Ave. in the rain screaming at me, “You comin’ home with me, baby!” Repeatedly. Uh, no, actually, I’m going back to my hotel alone, toothless Ruth. You can keep screaming that and trying to pat my backside all you want, but if there weren’t enough drugs for me to envision DeNiro running a jazz club in Montreal, there certainly aren’t enough, even in Miami, for me to go home with you …

Ah, Miami.

Dec 18

2015 Pac-12 Picking the Winners Recap: November

Taylor McNamara's TD catch capped off USC's South Division-clinching 40-21 victory over UCLA on Nov. 28

Taylor McNamara’s TD catch capped off USC’s South Division-clinching 40-21 victory over UCLA on Nov. 28

Welcome to my third and final monthly recap of my 2015 “Picking the Winners” Pac-12 preview (which has appeared annually on USCFootball.com for the past decade or so). My first two recaps appeared on Sept. 30 (covering September results) and Nov. 5 (covering October results). If you missed my picks in the feature story, here’s the link:

15th Annual ‘Picking the Winners’ Pac-12 Preview

My November mark of 18-7 (including the Pac-12 Championship game) left my overall record for the season at 67-25 (.728), matching my 2014 mark. Not counting the Pac-12 title game — which I include as a loss, since I had Oregon (not Stanford) beating USC (hmm, on second thought, should I count the North champ over USC as a win?) — half of my defeats came at the hands of a Washington State team that closed out a surprising 8-4 season. Before taking a look at the season overall, let’s see how things shook out in November — my best picks, worst picks, and how my preseason expectations for each team compared with the reality.

Week 10

Best Picks

  • USC over Arizona (picked 42-27; actual 38-30)
  • Oregon over California (picked 57-28; actual 44-28)

Worst Pick

  • Arizona State over Washington State, 41-31 (actual: Washington State 38, Arizona State 24)
  • Washington over Utah, 22-20 (actual: Utah 34, Washington 23)

A 4-2 week was marred by, of course, Washington State’s home win against the Sun Devils — after falling behind 14-0 early — and Utah‘s victory over Washington. My best picks of the week narrowly missed being even better, as the Trojans (picked by 15 over Arizona) allowed a meaningless late touchdown after leading, 38-23. And while Oregon allowed 28 points to California (as predicted), the Ducks’ offense was still finding its way a bit.

Week 11

Best Picks

  • Oregon over Stanford (picked 30-24; actual 38-36)
  • California over Oregon State (picked 52-31; actual 54-24)
  • Arizona State over Washington (picked 38-23; actual 27-17)

Worst Pick

  • UCLA over Washington State, 48-22 (actual: Washington State 31, UCLA 27)

For the fourth time in 2015, I enjoyed a one-loss week, going 5-1. Unsurprisingly, it was the Cougars who kept me from my first perfect week of the season when they scored with three seconds to play at UCLA. Among the five winners, Oregon’s “upset” at Stanford was perhaps the most surprising after how the season’s first 10 weeks had played out. Meanwhile, my pick of Cal scoring 50+ in a blowout over Oregon State came true, and I missed the correct margin by just five points in Arizona State‘s win against the Huskies.

Week 12

Best Picks

  • Oregon over USC (picked 45-35; actual 48-28)
  • Arizona State over Arizona (picked 41-34; actual 52-37)
  • Stanford over California (picked 42-20; actual 35-22)

Worst Picks

  • Oregon State over Washington, 19-17 (actual: Washington 52, Oregon State 7)
  • Colorado over Washington State, 33-30 (actual: Washington State 27, Colorado 3)
  • Utah over UCLA, 26-16 (actual: UCLA 17, Utah 9)

The weekend of Nov. 21 tied for my toughest of the season (3-3). Incredibly, I picked the week’s marquee matchup (Oregon-USC) and two rivalry games (the Territorial Cup and the Big Game) correctly, while failing on what seemed to be less attractive games . The Beavers continued to somehow be worse than I imagined. And Washington State’s demolition of Colorado toppled one of my preseason upset picks.

Week 13

Best Picks

  • California over Arizona State (picked 45-42; actual 48-46)
  • Utah over Colorado (picked 31-19; actual 20-14)

Worst Pick

  • Washington over Washington State, 28-27 (actual: Washington, 45-10)

I never would have imagined that my only perfect week of 2015 would coincide with the last full slate of the year — especially considering the number of rivalry games, what became a huge Stanford-Notre Dame matchup, and a back-and-forth shootout in Berkeley. But not only did I go 6-0 — meaning that I ended up picking all five traditional conference rivalry outcomes correctly in 2015 — but I also just missed the final score in Cal’s “Pac-12 After Dark” win over ASU.

Week 14

Pac-12 Championship: Stanford 41, USC 22 (picked Oregon over USC, 38-31)

Honestly, after what the Trojans faced during the first month-and-a-half of the 2015 campaign, I’m as stunned as you are that I picked the South Division champion correctly.

November Expectations vs. Reality

With six incorrect picks in regular season games, once again there’s plenty of shakeup when looking at my expectations for each squad. As usual, let’s start from the Pacific Northwest and head down the coast before curling back inland.

  • Washington (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): Overachieving Utah and underachieving Oregon State (even with limited expectations) helped me fail on two Husky picks.
  • Washington State (picked 0-4, 0-4 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 3-1): The Cougars’ surprise season was reflected in three appearances in my “Worst Picks of the Week” column in November.
  • Oregon State (picked 1-3, 1-3 in Pac-12; reality 0-4, 0-4): My only miss on Oregon State in November: picking them to beat Washington at home. Instead, the Huskies led 45-0 at halftime.
  • Oregon (picked 4-0, 4-0 in Pac-12; reality 4-0, 4-0): My preseason pick of the Ducks as dominant finally came to fruition in a month where UO beat Stanford on the road and whipped USC in Eugene.
  • California (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): For a second consecutive month, I nailed all four Cal game predictions.
  • Stanford (picked 3-1, 3-1 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 3-1): Not counting Stanford’s appearance in the Pac-12 title game (replacing my preseason pick, Oregon), I notched four correct calls on the Cardinal.
  • UCLA (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): While the pick vs. reality looks good, I shanked two Bruins’ picks, with Washington State’s improvement and Utah’s loss of Devontae Booker biting me.
  • USC (picked 3-1, 3-1 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 3-1 ): A perfect four-for-four (five-for-five, if you want to count the Trojans’ loss in the Pac-12 championship game).
  • Arizona State (picked 3-1, 3-1 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): Yep, Washington State again.
  • Arizona (picked 1-2, 1-2 in Pac-12; reality 1-2, 1-2): A perfect month of Wildcat selections.
  • Utah (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): More muddled results with my Ute picks, missing their Washington and UCLA outcomes.
  • Colorado (picked 1-3, 1-3 in Pac-12; reality 0-4, 0-4): Those Cougs did it to me — and the Buffs — again.

2015 Pac-12 Picks: The Final Breakdown

If you’re still with me, here’s a look back at the full season results, in comparison to my preseason picks, with errors noted.

North Division (by order of finish)

  1. Stanford: Final record — 11-2, 8-1; preseason prediction — 10-2, 7-2 (second in North). Variance: lost at Northwestern; won at USC; advanced to and won Pac-12 Championship game vs. USC.
  2. Oregon: Final record — 9-3, 7-2; preseason prediction — 12-1, 9-0 (first in North). Variance: lost vs. Utah; lost vs. Washington State; failed to advance to Pac-12 Championship game.
  3. Washington State: Final record — 8-4, 6-3; preseason prediction — 3-9, 1-8 (sixth in North). Variance: lost vs. Portland State; won at Rutgers; won at Oregon; won at Arizona; won vs. Arizona State; won at UCLA; won vs. Colorado.
  4. California: Final record — 7-5, 4-5; preseason prediction — 6-6, 4-5 (third in North). Variance: won at Texas.
  5. Washington: Final record — 6-6, 4-5; preseason prediction — 4-8, 2-7 (fifth in North). Variance: won at USC; won vs. Arizona; lost vs. Utah; won at Oregon State.
  6. Oregon State: Final record — 2-10, 0-9; preseason prediction — 4-8, 2-7 (fourth in North). Variance: lost vs. Colorado; lost vs. Washington.

South Division (by order of finish)

  1. USC: Final record — 8-5, 6-3; preseason prediction — 10-3, 7-2 (first in South). Variance: lost vs. Stanford; won at Arizona State; lost vs. Washington; lost at Notre Dame.
  2. Utah: Final record — 9-3, 6-3; preseason prediction — 7-5, 4-5 (fifth in South). Variance: won at Oregon; won vs. Arizona State; won at Washington; lost vs. UCLA.
  3. UCLA: Final record — 8-4, 5-4; preseason prediction — 8-4, 5-4 (fourth in South). Variance: won at Arizona; lost vs. Arizona State; lost vs. Washington State; won at Utah.
  4. Arizona State: Final record — 6-6, 4-5; preseason prediction — 8-4, 6-3 (second in South). Variance: lost vs. USC; won at UCLA; lost at Utah; lost at Washington State.
  5. Arizona: Final record — 6-6, 3-6; preseason prediction — 8-4, 5-4 (third in South). Variance: lost vs. UCLA; won at Colorado; lost vs. Washington State; lost at Washington.
  6. Colorado: Final record — 4-9, 1-8; preseason prediction — 6-7, 2-7 (sixth in North). Variance: lost at Hawaii; lost vs. Arizona; won at Oregon State; lost at Washington State.

In the North, I was two points from picking California’s entire season correctly. Yes, I picked Texas to beat Cal by a point — but it was the Bears who pulled off a 45-44 win, saddling me with my only incorrect selection on the Berkeley schedule. Additionally, I missed only two outcomes each on the schedules of North stalwarts Stanford and Oregon.

Unsurprisingly, my worst set of results featured Washington State, which I picked to finish in the North cellar. I failed in picking seven of the Cougs’ 12 outcomes, but one of those has to be on them — their season-opening loss to FCS-level Portland State.

Intriguingly, I had exactly four incorrect selections for all six South Division clubs, while picking the division winner (USC) correctly. However, with some minor shuffling behind the Trojans, I correctly picked five South squads for bowl eligibility.

2015 Pac-12 Bowl Picks

Finally, with a record 10 conference clubs reaching the postseason, here are my picks for each bowl, with the slate getting underway tomorrow (College Football Playoff rankings reflected).

Saturday, Dec. 19

  • Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque: Arizona 41, New Mexico 30
  • Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas: (22) Utah 23, BYU 21

Saturday, Dec. 26

  • Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso: Miami 35, Washington State 31
  • Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas: Washington 31, Southern Mississippi 21
  • Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara: UCLA 38, Nebraska 27

Tuesday, Dec. 29

  • Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth: California 42, Air Force 28

Wednesday, Dec. 30

  • National Funding Holiday Bowl, San Diego: (25) USC 24, Wisconsin 20

Friday, Jan. 1, 2016

  • Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena: (6) Stanford 30, (5) Iowa 24

Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016

  • Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio: (15) Oregon 43, (11) TCU 37
  • Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, Phoenix: West Virginia 34, Arizona State 31

Thanks for reading. I look forward to being back for the 2016 season!

Jan 10

Recapping My 2014 USC/Pac-12 Coverage and Picks

Enjoying a USC rally at Quincy Market in Boston, a day before one of my worst picks of 2014.

Enjoying a USC rally in Boston, a day before one of my worst picks of 2014.

With Monday’s College Football Championship game marking the end of the 2014 season, last week I began to look back at some of the content I produced for USCFootball.com, the Scout Network website dedicated to wall-to-wall coverage of USC Trojans football. I’ve done in-season work for the site since 2000, through its three iterations: starting out as an independent start-up; transitioning to become part of the Rivals Network; and, just prior to this season, joining Scout.

This one’s for my loyal football content readers — especially the stat and result geeks. So, be forewarned!

If you’re a reader, you know that — for the 14th consecutive season — I produced my annual Pac-12 preview where I pick a winner and a score for each game played by a conference school, prior to the season. This year’s preview can be found here: 2014 Pac-12 “Picking the Winners” Game-by-Game Preview.

In 2014, I picked winners in 67 of the 92 Pac-12 games played (including Oregon’s win in the Pac-12 Championship game; I had them beating USC, rather than Arizona but it’s crazy what one completed Hail Mary can mean). That 67-25 mark means I predicted 72.8 percent of the games correctly, slightly off from the combined total of my prior 13 seasons: 74.6 percent. It represented a much steeper drop from 2013, when I posted my second-best season ever (81.3 percent), but was still far better than 2012 — my worst season to date (64.1 percent).

Colorado, working hard at justifying my season's picks for them.

Colorado worked hard to justify my 2014 picks.

Digging into the numbers, I found some intriguing notes and trends:

  • My four best records in selecting specific teams’ games included: Oregon (12-1); UCLA (10-2); Colorado (10-2); and Washington (10-3). In a way, you can kind of throw out UO and CU. I picked Oregon to win all 13, so their one loss (to Arizona) was, unsurprisingly, my only incorrect pick. Thanks Ducks! At the other end, I had Colorado winning four total games and one conference game. Turns out, they simply just lost two of the games I picked them to win to fade to a rough 2-10, 0-9 finish. The success with the Bruins and UW was a little more noteworthy. First, the Huskies: I selected their first seven games correctly before a loss to Arizona State ended that run. Two weeks later, UW lost at UCLA — one of my two incorrect Bruin choices. Finally, in August, I thought the Huskies might struggle in the Apple Cup at Pullman — but that was before Wazzu lost quarterback Connor Halliday against USC and limped to a tough finish. Before the season, I picked UW to finish the regular season at 9-4, 5-4; they finished 8-5, 4-5. Aside from the aforementioned defeat of Washington, my only other UCLA error was when the Bruins were shocked at home by Utah. That 10-2 mark — with one incorrect pick on each side of the docket — meant that my prediction for a 9-3, 6-3 UCLA regular season was dead on.
  • The only team that I whiffed on more than I got right in my preseason picks? Utah (5-7). Suffice it to say, I did not believe in the Utes prior to the season’s kickoff. I had them finishing 3-9, 1-8 and tied for last in the Pac-12 South with Colorado. Instead, Utah finished the regular season with an 8-4, 5-4 mark and impressive late wins at UCLA and at home against USC.
  • There was only one other conference team for which I didn’t pick a correct result in either seven or eight contests: Cal (9-3). The Golden Bears bounced back in a big way from a dismal 2013, falling just short of bowl eligibility at 5-7, 3-6 — including tough, close losses at Arizona (49-45 on a game-ending Hail Mary) and at home to UCLA (36-34) and BYU (42-35, in the closing game of the regular season). I picked against Cal in all three, helping my overall success.
  • The 8-4s and 7-5s. As for the rest of my picks, here’s how it broke down by team: Arizona (8-4); Oregon State (8-4); Stanford (8-4); USC (8-4);
    USC's win over Fresno State was one of eight Trojan games I picked correctly in my Pac-12 preview.

    Nelson Agholor for 6. USC’s win over Fresno State was one of eight Trojan games picked correctly in my Pac-12 preview.

    Arizona State (7-5); and Washington State (7-5). Among those teams’ overall records, I whiffed pretty clearly on Arizona (picked 6-6, 3-6; they finished 10-2, 7-2 prior to the championship game and bowl season), Stanford (picked 11-1, 8-1; finished 7-5, 5-4) and Washington State (picked 7-5, 4-5; finished 3-9, 2-7).

  • Eight best single game picks of 2014

    • Sept. 6: I picked Oregon over Michigan State by 17 — 38-21. The final margin: 19, in a 46-27 victory.
    • Sept. 13: I picked Arizona State over Colorado, 38-24. The actual final score? Yep, 38-24.
    • Sept. 27: I picked Cal to beat Colorado by a field goal in overtime (37-34). The result? A higher scoring game with the same outcome: Cal by a field goal in OT, 59-56.
    • Sept. 27: I picked Stanford to edge Washington, 20-16, just off from the real result: Stanford 20, Washington 13.
    • Sept. 27 (good week, huh?): I selected USC to defeat Oregon State by 22 (45-23). The Trojans won by 25 (35-10).
    • Sept. 27 (yep, again): I picked Washington State over Utah by three (38-35). The Cougs won, 28-27. Suffice it to say, with how both teams’ seasons went — and my acumen in picking them — this might be the most shocking of the “best” picks listed.
    • Oct. 11: Oregon beat UCLA, 42-30, in Pasadena. Prior to the season, I’d selected the Ducks as 44-35 victors.
    • Oct. 11: I selected Stanford to beat Washington State by 17 (41-24). The Cardinal did, in fact, beat the Cougars by 17 (34-17)
  • Eight worst single game picks of 2014

    • Sept. 20: Yep, I underestimated Utah — and probably gave good old Brady Hoke a tad too much credit. The pick: Michigan 35-23. The reality: Utah 26-10  — a 28-point differential.
    • Oct. 2: I lost one Oregon game all season — and it was a doozy. I picked the Ducks by 30 over Arizona, making the Wildcats’ 31-24 win my third worst point differential this season: 37. Guess I should have saved the 30-point win call for the conference title game.
    • Oct. 4: My miscalculation of the Cougars’ progress under Mike Leach resonated in a big way when Cal upended Wazzu 60-59. My preseason pick: Washington State, 52-24. Ugh.
    • Oct. 4 (yes, this weekend was the payback for the great Sept. 27): One of my two incorrect UCLA picks was almost as rough as that Oregon miscue above. I picked the Bruins to top Utah by 31. But the Utes had other ideas, winning 30-28.
    • Oct. 25: By the time this game happened, the outcome wasn’t much of a surprise. But, since I’d picked the Cougs (again) to beat Arizona by six, the Wildcats’ 22-point drubbing lands on this list.
    • Nov. 1: The pick: Oregon State 51, Cal 27. The reality: Cal 45, Oregon State 31. That’s right, this game’s No. 2 on my worst point differential chart at 38.
    • Nov. 15: Stanford looked to be a solid choice against the Utes prior to the season — as did many others. About a 31-point pick. So, of course, the Utes won by 3 in double OT.
    • Nov. 22: Saving the worst for last in a couple of ways! One of the few times I actually picked the Utes prior to the season — by a touchdown over Arizona — what do they do? How about go out and lose at home, 42-10? Sure, why not! Utah was my kryptonite in 2014, even when I picked them to win. In this one, they were responsible for my single worst point differential of the season: 39.

***

Adoree Jackson was still a blur, even to my best camera and lens, on his receiving TD in the Holiday Bowl.

Adoree Jackson was still a blur, even to my best camera and lens, on his receiving TD in the Holiday Bowl.

Additionally, I handle USCFootball.com‘s official weekly game and opponent previews throughout the season. The Trojans survived the final season of sanction-hampered personnel, finishing with a 9-4 mark (6-3 in the Pac-12 South, good for a second-place tie) — including big road wins at Stanford and Arizona, as well as a dominant victory over rival Notre Dame and a Holiday Bowl win over a game Nebraska squad in a thriller. “A thriller” became perhaps too familiar a description for many USC fans in 2014. Not only did USC hold off Stanford, Arizona and Nebraska in the final moments, but they were also victimized by those “thrills,” losing twice in the waning seconds — at home, on a final-play Hail Mary against Arizona State and at Utah on a Utes drive that was capped by a one-yard TD pass with eight seconds to play.

Those losses plus a truly baffling and unacceptable upset loss at Boston College in week three and a throttling at the hands of crosstown rival UCLA kept the Trojans’ season from being a “total success,” as contended by Coach Steve Sarkisian. However, given USC’s dwindling number of available scholarship players throughout the season, there is hope for the future as the Trojans begin to restock with their first full scholarship class since 2011 set to sign on Feb. 4. And if you believe what you’re reading on USCFootball.com, that class could be something else.

Here are links to each of my USC game previews for 2014:

August 30: (15) USC vs. Fresno State

My preview pick of the Trojans by 4 over the Cardinal was nearly dead on.

My preview pick of the Trojans by 4 over the Cardinal was nearly dead on.

September 6: (14) USC @ (13/10) Stanford

September 13: (9/10) USC @ Boston College

September 27: (18/22) USC vs. Oregon State

October 4: (16/20) USC vs. (24) Arizona State

October 11: USC @ (10/13) Arizona

October 18: (22/25) USC vs. Colorado

October 25: (20/21) USC @ (19) Utah

November 1: USC @Washington State

November 13: USC vs. California

November 22: (19/24) USC @ (9/11) UCLA

November 29: USC vs. Notre Dame

December 27: (24) USC vs. (25) Nebraska, Holiday Bowl, San Diego

Taking a look at my record with the picks in these week-by-week previews, I finished with eight correct and five incorrect — about right considering the Trojans’ topsy-turvy season.

The crowd reacts as, in the background, George Farmer scores USC's first TD against Notre Dame.

The crowd reacts as, in the background, George Farmer scores against Notre Dame.

Let’s take a look at the misses:

  • I wasn’t alone in thinking the then-No. 9 Trojans would roll at Boston College. That game is still one of the more baffling I’ve attended. USC jumped to a 17-6 lead and looked on its way to the expected blowout before just falling completely flat for about 35 minutes. Ugly.
  • Up next, USC’s embarrassing Hail Mary loss to ASU. Nuff said.
  • The following week, after such a ridiculous defeat, I picked Arizona to beat the Trojans in Tucson. The Wildcats were coming off their big win at Oregon and I expected the momentum on both teams’ sidelines — plus the home field — would be enough for Arizona to come out on top. I will tell you, a small courtyard condo complex in Cambridge, Mass., got an unexpected 1:45 a.m. wake-up call when Cats kicker Casey Skowron shanked an easy game-winning field goal attempt, giving the Trojans the win. I was staying there after attending a wedding in Boston the day before, and I kinda forgot my surroundings (and the reality of the Eastern time zone) for a minute.
  • USC gave a game to Utah. My kryptonite, I tell ya.
  • And, though I smartly picked the Bruins in my Pac-12 preview, I went with my heart in the game-week preview, picking the Trojans to win in Pasadena. Bad call.

The best two picks in the weekly previews: USC by four at Stanford (the Trojans won by 3); and the Trojans by 22 over Colorado (USC won by 28).

The worst two picks in these previews: Obviously, BC (34-point differential) and UCLA (24-point differential).

My closest calls on USC total points in weekly previews: 35 vs. Oregon State (exactly right, as USC scored 35); 42 at Washington State (44); 31 at Arizona (28); 24 at Utah (21).

My closest calls on USC points allowed in weekly previews: 30 vs. Cal (exactly right, as the Bears posted 30); 17 vs. Fresno State (13); and 19 at Utah (24).

One last intriguing note: in 2014, the Trojans averaged 35.8 points per game and allowed 25.2 points per game. My score predictions, when averaged out, weren’t far off — USC 36.7, opponents 24.4 — essentially giving the Trojans about a point of extra credit in either direction.

***

If you’re one of my football content readers, thanks for spending your time on my stories. I hope you’re looking forward to the 2015 season as much as I am. In the meantime, here’s one last prediction for this season:

Oregon 46, Ohio State 37

Leonard Williams takes the sword one last time in San Diego. Fight On in the NFL!

Leonard Williams takes the sword one last time. Fight On in the NFL!