The mere mention suggests something magical. Glitter. Bright lights. National buzz. Lots on the line.
Hollywood-worthy, if you will. Goosebump Central as rivalries go, like Ohio State-Michigan or Alabama-Auburn. Well, nowadays maybe more like Army-Navy in terms of actual significance. Great theater but smaller impact.
Texas-USC. Two heavyweights of the game although both are slightly weighed down by unmet expectations of late. Still, they’ve combined to win a whopping 1,734 games, give or take, depending on how many the NCAA takes away.
Texas could win its 900th all-time Saturday, ranking third in history, while USC bids for No. 836. Those numbers are substantial. Only Ohio State and Michigan have won more games than Texas.
Texas-USC. Eye-popping stars, many of them even on the field. Glorious pasts, maybe too long past. Transcendent mascots. Big-name followers from Snoop Dog and Will Ferrell to Roger Clemens and Mr. All Right, All Right, All Right even though Texas hasn’t been all right in ages. Throw in a Keith Jackson, and you’ve got the potential for an instant classic like last year’s double-overtime thriller in the Coliseum.
So why isn’t there more hoopla over this matchup?
Well, for one, Ohio State-TCU is hogging most of the limelight because they’re, well, more relevant honestly. And better.
Secondly, USC, through its own doing, has suffered through losses of 30 scholarships over three years and a two-year bowl ban. Texas has just suffered. Period.
Thirdly, two of the biggest brand names in college football will take the field here Saturday night in a game desperately needed by 1-1 teams that are each a loss away from potentially flopping in 2018.
Texas, however, can at least boast that its Big 12 slate is clean until Oklahoma decides otherwise as Oklahoma always does. USC’s already a loss behind Stanford.
They’re more alike than different, these two. They play in two after-thought conferences, relegated to the sidelines as the SEC, ACC and Big Ten divvy up those precious College Football Playoff slots. Oh, OU’s a legit power and has represented the Big 12 twice in semis that didn’t end well, and Oregon and Washington won participation trophies in the CFP, and Stanford’s always good. But both leagues are seen as outliers on the national scene.
Both of these schools have had iconic coaches patrolling their sidelines, John McKay and Pete Carroll for the Tinsel types and Darrell Royal and Mack Brown for the home 11. But they both have fan bases with intrinsic doubts about their current leaders, the less-than-charismatic Clay Helton and the more-arrogant-than-most Tom Herman.
They both have their trademark traditions, USC as Tailback U with the likes of O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush and Texas as DBU with Earl Thomas, Michael Griffin and Quandre Diggs stealing NFL limelight.
They both used to rule their conferences until Oregon came along and Washington remembered it was elite, and Oklahoma left the Big Eight to dominate the Big 12. And both are trying to restore their luster, Texas much moreso than USC. After all, the Trojans are coming off an 11-win season and a Pac-12 championship. (We won’t bring up the Cotton Bowl.)
Texas and USC share a history — however brief — but undeniably golden. Last year’s thriller almost equaled their meeting in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Maybe you’ve seen a replay of that 2006 game.
The quarterbacks who shined so brightly that January evening in Pasadena were both NFL busts. Matt Leinart didn’t make it. Vince Young had a sensational NFL rookie season, but didn’t stick. Some blame that on Jeff Fisher, a USC Trojan naturally. There’s that rivalry cropping up again.
Of course, this is the rivalry that isn’t, according to some. After all, the school in La La Land doesn’t even acknowledge it, claiming a 5-0 record in the series but blaming the NCAA for history-denying accounting. Oh, but the Best Game of All Time did happen as we all know.
It’s the getting back to that mountaintop that the burnt orange finds so beguiling.
Texas is still looking for the next VY. USC may have its.
Freshman phenom JT Daniels received his coronation in his college debut as an 18-year-old who skipped his entire high school senior year and who follows Sam Darnold as the Trojans’ next great thing. He’s reportedly even got tattoos of a Trojan and the Coliseum on his right calf.
Texas still has a Sam of its own, and while Ehlinger gave a strong account of himself against Tulsa, Longhorn Nation awaits the next coming of Vince. Or Colt. It’d settle for the next either one. It’s been a difficult transition since McCoy. Nine-year relevance droughts usually are.
USC appears to be on the right track. It’s overflowing with talent. Besides Daniels, Helton has a lineup with stud linebackers Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith, an All-Pac 12 safety in Marvell Tell and skill personnel that Texas can only dream of. The Trojans’ last recruiting class included four five-star players and 13 four-star signees. Meanwhile, it’s all Herman can do to keep his head above water against OU and A&M on the recruiting trail.
So let the buzz begin for this one.
Herman still covets that one signature win, even over a 1-1 team dripping in history. It’d be the kind of jumpstart that might propel the Longhorns to loftier heights. Like, say, the Camping World Bowl.
That’d be magical.