Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Watching Vince Young carry his Tennessee Titans past the Reggie Bush-led New Orleans Saints got me thinking about what for my money was one of the five best games - in any sport - that I have ever seen.
I'm talking of course about the 2006 Rose Bowl where Young draped his burnt orange Superman cape around himself one last time as a member of the Longhorns and led them to a 41-38 win over USC and Bush.
That game, while incredible for many reasons, may in fact go down as the single greatest collection of talent on a collegiate football field ever. Everyone knows about Young and Bush, but you can't forget Matt Leinart, LenDale White, Michael Huff and others who shared the field that January night.
The Stars: The biggest stars and best players from that game have already been mentioned and the list has to start with Young. People knew Young was an immense talent leading up to the game, but few knew he would almost single handedly lift his Texas teammates to the upset win.
In the game, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 yards of total offense as well as three rushing touchdowns, the last of which proved to be the game-winner with 0:19 left. Later that year he would be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Titans and is currently one of the brightest stars the league has to offer.
The other transcendent star that emerged from that game was of course Bush, who was named the Heisman Trophy winner prior to the Rose Bowl. Like Young, everyone knew Bush was capable of dismantling a defense with his blazing speed and other-worldly moves.
Interestingly it was Bush who was in the middle of what many believe to be the turning point for Texas that night. Well on his way to what looked like another USC score and a 14-0 lead, Bush inexplicably ended a 37-yard catch-and-run with an ill-timed lateral which resulted in a turnover and a sudden change in momentum.
The lateral and ensuing fumble would overshadow yet another big time performance by Bush who ran 13 times for 82 yards and a touchdown and hauled in six passes for 95 more yards. The touchdown was vintage Bush who tight roped the sideline before launching himself from the five yard line into the end zone.
Bush and the Trojans would see their 34-game winning streak come to an end that night, but on the same day Young was picked third overall in the NFL Draft, Bush would go second to the Saints. In his rookie season Bush set a rookie-record with 88 receptions and accounted for 1,523 total yards and nine touchdowns.
USC quarterback Matt Leinart was the king of Los Angeles when he decided to pass on the riches of an NFL contract and return to school for one more run at the title. Leinart's second - and last - loss as a Trojan saw him go 29-of-40 for 365 yards including one touchdown and one interception.
The decision to come back for his final year of eligibility seemed like a risky play, especially in the aftermath of the Rose Bowl. Although the 49ers will never admit it, had Leinart entered the draft after his Heisman winning campaign in 2004 he would almost certainly been the top overall pick. Instead he fell to 10th overall and the Arizona Cardinals where he is currently the teams starting QB.
The Other Big Names: Young, Bush and Leinart may have been the headliners in the 2006 Rose Bowl, but another group of very talented players left their mark on the game.
The "thunder" to Bush's "lightning", bruising tailback LenDale White led the Trojans with 20 carries for 124 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. Interestingly he is now Young's teammate with the Titans and scored a touchdown against Bush's Saints this past Monday night.
Sandwiched between Bush, Young and Leinart in the 2006 NFL Draft was Texas defensive back Michael Huff who was picked 7th overall by the Oakland Raiders. It was Huff who recovered the Bush lateral and he was all over the field that night, solidifying his status as the top defensive back in the nation that year.
Another member of the Texas secondary stood out in the Rose Bowl and now finds himself reunited with Young in Tennessee. Safety Michael Griffin recorded the only interception of Leinart in the title game that year and a season later was the first round pick of the Titans.
Protecting Leinart has become a habit for guard Deuce Lutui who did so at USC and now does the same as a starting guard for the Arizona Cardinals. Picked a round after Leinart, the selection of Lutui was criticized by some, but Lutui has shut up the doubters and already has 12 starts in just over one season.
Somewhat overshadowed by a couple of other Griffin's in the Texas secondary, Cedric Griffin did a nice job covering USC stud receiver Steve Smith in the Rose Bowl and is now the starting cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield for the Minnesota Vikings.
Speaking of Smith, while he didn't have a Rose Bowl to remember he was one of the most consistent and steady targets for Leinart at USC his entire career. Picked in the 2nd round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Giants, Smith is working himself into a more prominent role in New York.
Smith's partner in the USC receiving corps was one of the best wide receivers in college history, Dwayne Jarrett. Jarrett was the receiving star of the Rose Bowl, hauling in 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. Also picked in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft, Jarrett has yet to play for the Carolina Panthers, but his talent is undeniable.
In all, 28 players who participated in the 2006 Rose Bowl were drafted in the 2006 and 2007 NFL Drafts. Some of the other notables include CB Aaron Ross (Texas), OG Justin Blalock (Texas), C Ryan Kalil (USC), DE Brian Robison (Texas), S Darnell Bing (USC) TE David Thomas (Texas), TE Dominique Byrd (USC), and OT Jonathan Scott (Texas).
The Future: The overflow of talent from that memorable game doesn't end with those that have already reached the NFL. And while not all of them played a major role in the Rose Bowl that year, they were there and are about ready to make a serious impact at the next level as soon as 2008.
Leading the way are a trio of Trojans who are all ranked among the top 15 seniors by Scouts Inc. Tops on that list is defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis who is a disruptive force in the middle for USC. He's joined by tackle Sam Baker who started at left tackle in the Rose Bowl, and linebacker Keith Rivers who figures to go in the top half of the 2008 draft.
Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed caught eight passes in the Rose Bowl for 65 yards and was the Longhorns second leading receiver that night. Most think Sweed will follow in the footsteps of another former Longhorn in the person of Detroit Lions receiver Roy Williams with his combination of size and speed.
Although he missed the Rose Bowl with a knee injury, USC cornerback Terrell Thomas is a big time cover corner with the size to deal with big NFL receivers. If he proves he can overcome his injury history he could be off the board in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Texas defensive tackle Frank Okam is another high-upside player who could be a major factor in the first round of the 2008 draft with a solid senior season in Austin.
At the time few people were giving a second thought about who was backing up Leinart at quarterback for the nation's #1 team, but that man just happened to be Heisman hopeful John David Booty. Booty is a polished, consistent performer and should be drafted in 2008.
Only a freshman at the time, running back Jamaal Charles ran the ball five times for 34 yards in the Rose Bowl and now finds himself as one of the top underclassmen running backs who could declare for the 2008 draft.
Another then-freshman, WR Patrick Turner, is now the man at USC in the receiving corps with the departure of Jarrett and Smith. He's big (6-foot-4 1/2) and with another year under his belt at USC could easily be one of the top receivers in the 2009 draft.
One USC pass catcher who could make a splash in the NFL next year is tight end Fred Davis. Davis was overshadowed by Dominique Byrd in the Rose Bowl, but Davis is a better natural receiver. A former wideout himself, Davis is one of the top senior tight ends in the nation.
Baker may get all the headlines, but Texas has their own stud tackle in Tony Hills. Hills is considered one of the top five or six offensive linemen in the country and should be a stud at the next level.
Should Texas and USC meet again this year in a bowl game, Hills will be tested by another super defensive lineman from USC, defensive end Lawrence Jackson. Jackson is an explosive playmaker off the edge and will certainly hear his name called in the 2008 draft.
Two other USC defenders could opt for an early entry into the NFL Draft and both could be big time performers at the next level. Linebackers Ray Maualuga and Brian Cushing are currently playing alongside Rivers and all three could soon be playing on Sundays.
The Bottom Line: The list of current and potential stars who populated the rosters of Texas and USC that night in the Rose Bowl is long and distinguished and has to be considered maybe the greatest collection of talent ever assembled for a single collegiate football game.
For a full list of players who played for Texas and USC, just follow the links.
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