Saturday, September 30, 2006

USC Game Day: Trojan Rules

A post this week on the AOL Fanhouse makes a connection between the east coast bias and the NCAA’s new rule 3-2-5-e, which is designed to shorten games by running the clock during kickoffs and between possession changes.

This guy Scott Olin Schmidt writes that Pete Carroll has claimed the new rule has reduced USC's offensive plays by five to six per half. The point Schmidt tries to make is interesting:

The most harmful effect of Rule 3-2-5-e, however, may be to exacerbate the perceived East Coast Bias in the human polls used to select teams for BCS Bowl games.

Traditionally, the Pac Ten conference is viewed as having a more pass-happy, shootout style where lots of points are scored by each offense. In contrast, the SEC (or at least the top 4-5 teams) are said to be "defensive powerhouses" which battle it out in low-scoring games.

For example, six plays a half for the USC offense can mean 10-14 fewer points on the scoreboard, so a 64-14 win over Arkansas is only 50-14 or 42-10 win over, say, Nebraska, becomes 28-10...and people think USC's offense is struggling compared to last year. By contrast, LSU and Auburn's defenses look spectacular in a 7-3 game the same weekend.

The 3-2-5-e rule makes defensive-minded teams and conferences look better and offensive-minded ones look worse...and I highly doubt USA Today, AP and Harris Poll voters are taking the new rule into account when filing their ballots. In a system where one voter can cost a school millions, that could be a problem.
This is perhaps decent insight, except that USC's offense is, in fact, less potent than last year, in terms of experienced players, if not talent. The Trojans simply haven't been as explosive through three games, and how could they be with Reggie Bush gone? Common sense tells us that five or six plays a half simply don’t translate to two scores, when we don’t have a game breaker on the field this year … yet.

The second thing to point out is that Nebraska's cowardly game plan was to run the ball and the clock in order to keep the ball away from USC. Sure the new rule may have helped the Huskers play keep away, but it can be easily argued that Callahan’s “strategy” and our own skewed expectations were more to blame for the “low” Trojan scoring than the new rule.

Third, while the Pac-10 may have a "pass-happy" reputation, the Trojans (with the exception of last year's injury riddled unit) have always put defense first under Pete Carroll. His goal when he took over the program was to re-establish a national-class program by bringing dominating defense to the Pac-10. The result is that USC plays defense with anybody, including the SEC, and Carroll’s teams have proven this:

2002: Southern Cal 24, Auburn 17
2003: Southern Cal 23, Auburn 0
2005: Southern Cal 70, Arkansas 17
2006: Southern Cal 50, Arkansas 14

Despite any perceived weakness of the West, USC maintains its status as a national powerhouse. This makes the Trojans somewhat immune to conventional wisdom, as evidenced by our current position in both polls.

If we take an honest look at everything heading into this season’s first BCS ranking, Rule 3-2-5-e has no effect on the Trojans national championship hopes for at least three other reasons:

1) USC is already in position to earn a spot in the Championship Game. BCS computer analyst Jerry Palm said that if the BCS rankings were released this week, USC would be No. 2.
USC is in pretty good shape. They are second in both human polls and have a good non-conference schedule. That will be good enough to keep them ahead in the computers. Of course, they're only a 17-16 win over Stanford from dropping in the (Top 25) polls.
2) Speaking of close calls, Auburn didn’t look ready to run the SEC table during its Thursday night scare versus the weak Gamecocks. The ole' ball coach was one dropped ball away from tying and possibly beating the Tigers. “War eagle” looked a little wobbly in the air, don’t you think?

3) Most importantly, per my previous point, the USC defense is becoming dominant, with truly special players like Rey Maualuga emerging as stars. The Trojans have given up an average of nine points per game this season.

Yes, there is an east coast bias, and Rule 3-2-5-e may play into it. But the bottom line is that USC Football controls its own destiny at this point in the season. If we win, we’re in. The Trojans can’t ask for anything more than that … and we don’t.

Fight On! Beat the Cougars!

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