|USC Legends News|
Some may have been convinced USC is the nation's best team at the moment, as some have suggested recently and as the No. 6 Trojans (11-2) tried to confirm by rolling up a Rose Bowl-record 633 yards of offense and equaling the most points scored in the game's history.
"Last thing I'd want to do is lobby for something," USC coach Pete Carroll said, "but would we like to still be playing football? You bet we would. We'd play long into the springtime if we had to."
The result also suggested the Trojans only needed to be healthy to dominate as expected in preseason. With all their key players back for one of the few times this season, they handed the No. 13 Illini (9-4) by far their worst loss of the season. John David Booty, who missed the loss to Oregon and had a broken finger when he threw four interceptions against Stanford, was the offensive player of the game, completing 25 of 37 passes with three touchdowns and one interception. His first touchdown pass - an 8-yarder to Chauncey Washington a little more than four minutes into the game - gave USC a lead it never lost.
The outcome also hints that the Big Ten might have been relatively weak this season, a common suspicion.
"Obviously, it's not good for us," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "It hurts the Big Ten."
There will be those who believe the long layoff since the end of the regular season hurt Illinois, which committed four pivotal turnovers, the most since their season-opening loss to Missouri. Illinois' last game was Nov. 18. USC's finale was Dec. 1.
"I don't know whether it was the atmosphere or the first time in a bowl or whatever, but we didn't play one of our best games," Zook said.
A few may have decided the Rose Bowl erred by picking Illinois to pair against USC for the sake of the Pac-10/Big Ten Rose Bowl tradition.
"There will be talk, 'Oh, Illinois shouldn't have been here,' but we'll be back," Illinois safety Kevin Mitchell said.
By the end, many among the 93,923 at the Rose Bowl and the national TV audience had probably decided USC freshman Joe McKnight just might become another Reggie Bush. Carroll did not shy away from making that comparison after McKnight had a career-high 125 rushing yards, 45 receiving yards, 36 return yards and on, wild scoop-and-run 65-yard play that may have changed the game.
"He's on the national scene now," Carroll said, "and there's no question he can do similar stuff" to Reggie Bush.
Folks from the Midwest probably left with a very different conclusion, reasoning that if the ball had bounced just a little differently on two plays that occurred a few minutes apart in the third quarter, Illinois would have had a chance for an upset.
The Illini trailed 21-10 after Rashard Mendenhall's 79-yard touchdown run early in the third period, and Illinois was threatening again when disaster struck.
From the USC 24-yard line, Illini quarterback Juice Williams completed a pass to Jacob Willis at about the 5-yard line. But the ball was punched away by USC's Kaluka Maiava and recovered by Trojans linebacker Brian Cushing in the end zone for a touchback.
Four plays later, on 3rd-and-20 from the USC 23, John David Booty tossed a swing pass to the right side to Joe McKnight. The ball was overthrown and bounced in front of Joe McKnight, who realized the pass had been thrown backward and was live. He scooped it up and weaved his way 65 yards, which, with the help of an interference call on Illinois three plays later, led to John David Booty's 2-yard touchdown pass to Fred Davis. That made it 28-10 after it had nearly become 21-17.
Illinois racked up 231 yards in the third quarter, yet scored just seven points.
One thing is not in question. Carroll and USC know how to perform in the postseason. Tuesday's game was the Trojans' sixth straight BCS game, and they have won five. And they didn't just win them, the Trojans dominated all five. The one loss was the thrilling, 41-38 BCS title game defeat to unbeaten Texas in the Rose Bowl two years ago.
OTHER USC FOOTBALL NEWS
USC FOOTBALL NEWS