Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
My apologies to the faithful fans in Blacksburg, Athens, Tuscaloosa, Los Angeles (some of them) and Lubbock, but is there any doubt that the two best teams in the country are USC and Texas?
Sure, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Alabama, UCLA and Texas Tech have yet to lose in 2005, but with each passing week it looks more and more like the Longhorns and Trojans will meet in Pasadena in January for the National Title on the line in the Rose Bowl.
Mack Brown has perhaps his best team ever in Austin this season and that is certainly saying a lot with the kind of scary talent that has worn a UT uniform over the last half a decade or so. The Longhorns have scored under 42 points just once this year and that was a thrilling road win at Ohio State early on (25-22). Of course, coming into the Oklahoma game, one had to question whether this Longhorn squad had the ability to do what so many others couldn't -- beat the Sooners. Even though Oklahoma has proved to be a shell of the team that dominated college football for the last few years, the beating that Texas put on its nemesis was incredible (45-12). Getting over that hump (both on the field and psychologically) is a huge step for these Longhorns.
The key is that Brown's offense finally doesn't revolve around a running back (Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson), but rather a cool and collected quarterback, who is having a Heisman Trophy worthy campaign. Vince Young has been lethal with his arm this season, completing over 67 percent of his passes, with 12 TDs and just five interceptions. He has spread the ball around, with six players currently with 10 catches or more.
Don't get me wrong, the ground attack is still a big part of Texas' arsenal (229.8 ypg), but Young has made his mark in that area too, ranking second on the team in rushing with 413 yards and five TDs. In all, Texas has scored a whopping 21 TDs via the rush and 12 off the arm of Young, leading to a whopping 45.7 ppg (fourth in the nation).
Vince Young has been lethal with his arm this season, completing over 67 percent of his passes, with 12 TDs and just five interceptions.
Few teams are getting it done with that kind of results, with the exception of this week's opponent Texas Tech (leads the nation at 53.7 ppg), Louisville (third in the nation at 47.0 ppg) and of course, USC (second nationally at 48.7 ppg).
It is the latter that seems to be on course to win its third straight national title. Pete Carroll's Trojans have dodged a few bullets this season, most notably an inconceivable come-from-behind last minute victory over Notre Dame in South Bend last week. Still, when the smoke cleared, the Trojans' lengthy win streak (28 games) was intact.
Unlike Texas, USC possesses several marquee players on the offensive side of the ball in Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, Heisman hopeful Reggie Bush, fellow tailback LenDale White and wideouts Darryl Jarrett and Steve Smith.
Leinart may have struggled a bit last weekend in South Bend, but he did bring his team back on the final drive and plunged in from one-yard out for the win. On the season, his numbers are yet again Heisman worthy (63 percent completion rate, 324.5 ypg, 12 TDs, five INTs), but perhaps Bush has taken over as the catalyst for this team. With three TD runs against Notre Dame, Bush now has nine on the season, while averaging a healthy 8.8 yards per carry. Throw in White (7.1 ypc) in the backfield and Jarrett (568 yards and nine TDs) and Smith (665 yards and one score) on the outside and it is awfully tough to defend this team.
The Trojans can certainly score in a hurry, but what remains to be seen is if they can win a defensive battle. This is not the same team that destroyed the opposition with its smothering defense and therein lies the chink in the armor. Texas' defense is solid all around and would present a serious challenge for Leinart and company if they were to meet.
If the Longhorns can win out and capture the Big 12 title and it isn't a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination (Texas Tech in Austin and at Texas A&M to close out the regular season) and USC can avoid a letdown the rest of the way (treacherous games at California and against UCLA in the regular season-finale) than this seems to be a matchup made in Heaven.
Or better yet, just outside the City of Angels.