Preview of a Matador-less college football season

Alonso Tacanga

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






November of 2001 was devastating for many then-CSUN students and Matador school spirit ‘- if there was any. Citing money problems that would endanger the continuance of other university sports programs, then-‘rookie’ President Jolenne Koester decided to kill Northridge football.

Almost seven years later, every September, we still ask ourselves, ‘How come we don’t have a football team?’ Well, that was your answer.

Some elaboration: They weren’t any good. They didn’t generate enough revenue to stay.

Anyways, even without a squad, we still follow college football. There’s still USC and UCLA. They’re the ‘home’ teams.

The NCAA football season begins today and both the Trojans and Bruins ‘- teams that most CSUN football-lovers follow- have things to prove. Anything less than playing in the championship game will be an unsuccessful season for USC, while UCLA can call the year ‘fruitful’ if they become Bowl-eligible.

Here is a preview of the teams we follow because we don’t have a team (and even if we had it, we’d still follow these two):

USC Trojans: 11-2 (7-2 Pac-10) in 2007

Let’s start with USC, the football pride-and-joy of Los Angeles ‘-since the city has no professional team either- The Trojans are ranked No. 3 in the nation by AP and remain in top shape to win its seventh consecutive Pac-10 title on the back of its defense and yet another young, on-the-rise running back in Joe McKnight. USC, however, looks more vulnerable than usual this season due to two reasons: the quarterback situation and its offensive line.

Every college team goes through a phase of change when players graduate. The Trojans went from having a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback in Carson Palmer, now with the Cincinnati Bengals to another one in Matt Leinart, who just took a step back in losing a QB race in Arizona. Then it was John David Booty’s time, and he wasn’t bad, but he didn’t live up to USC’s skyscraper-high quarterback standards. Now it’s Mark Sanchez’s turn, or will it be Mitch Mustain’s?

Sanchez has been with USC for three years and had an ‘interesting’ career. He followed his hero (Palmer)’s footsteps into Trojan land in 2005; was suspended by the team after his arrest over a sexual assault investigation in which no charges were filed against him in 2006; made his first start and won while throwing two interceptions in 2007; and was designated as the starting quarterback only to get injured and put in doubt his status this year. On Tuesday, Sanchez was cleared to play in USC’s Saturday opener at Virginia, but looked rusty and threw two interceptions in practice. Maybe he’s still hurting and won’t admit to it. Whatever it is, if he doesn’t perform, head coach Pete Carroll won’t doubt in sitting him.

Mustain, on the other side, has that quarterback pedigree Palmer and Leinart had. He was one of the most highly-regarded incoming football players in the history of the NCAA with a 44-1 high school record. He chose to go to Arkansas University in 2006 and, as a starting true freshman, had an 8-0 record. He came to USC in 2007 and sat out the season due to transfer rules. He’s eligible this year and gave Sanchez a run for his money in the quarterback fight this summer. Now, with the projected starter hurting, it could soon be Mustain time.

The quarterback controversy may not matter as much if its offensive line doesn’t get better, which likely won’t happen this season. USC lost three key members of the protection service to the NFL and could be susceptible to some monster defensive lines and pass rushers ‘- say like, Ohio State’s, who they play on Sept. 13. The Trojans do have some talent there, like guard Jeff Byers, but just in case, whoever ends up winning the quarterback job should work on the speed of their release.

With an elite defense and a group of big, fast receivers who have a year’s experience under their belts to add to the mix, USC shouldn’t have major difficulty to win the conference. Challengers like Arizona State, Cal and Oregon will have to visit the Coliseum to take a crack at the big bad wolf of the Pac-10. The Trojans should win it, but their vulnerability should worry their fans. Especially since USC seems to always find a way to blow their chance to play for the national title.

UCLA Bruins: 6-7 (5-4 Pac-10) in 2007

Moving on to the at-best average Bruins, who had a coaching staff makeover this summer, is a bit painful. They got a quarterback maharishi in Norm Chow only to have their top two quarterback choices fall to injuries. First, it was backup Patrick Cowan suffering a career-ending knee injury. Then, it was the starter, Ben Olson -who was already coming off an injury-plagued 2007- breaking his foot earlier this month. Olson is out at least until October.

Someone’s got to throw the ball, however, and UCLA found its man in a JUCO transfer. Kevin Craft will take the field as a starter on Monday when the Bruins host No. 18 Tennessee ‘-given he doesn’t injure himself somehow. Craft has some amazing stats from his career at Mt. San Antonio College, but still has to prove he can succeed on this stage. His 4,231 yards and 44 touchdowns from last year should give him some confidence as well as having Chow to direct him.

UCLA’s biggest weaknesses after the quarterback: Just like USC, the offensive line, and its cornerbacks.

The Bruins really are at a lack of players to protect their inexperienced quarterback. The situation is so bad that the starting center will be someone who used to be a guard last season. UCLA will have to find a way to develop its young line fast if it hopes for Craft to stay healthy. And on defense, the Bruins don’t have enough talent or depth on the secondary to keep the rest of the Pac-10 off its territory through the air. It doesn’t help either that standout linebacker Bruce Davis moved on to the Pitsburgh Steelers. Having someone like Davis behind the line would have at least put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and give the passing defense some relief.

As far as running backs and receivers go, the Bruins are well-positioned in the Pac-10. Kahlil Bell had half of a monster 2007 season, rushing for 795 yards (an average of 5.6 yards per carry) and leading the team in touchdowns (5) while playing in only eight games. His year was cut short due to injury, but he’s back to carry UCLA’s running load. That and a tandem of

breakout receivers give the Bruins weapons to counter against its vulnerable defense. Perhaps the biggest weapon of all, though, will be their kicker, Kai Forbath, who made 25-of-30 kicks last season and led the team in scoring with 105 points. The kid can kick. He was 5-of-5 in field goals of at least 50 yards in 2007.

The schedule is killer for the Bruins and it will never get easier as long as they play in the Pac-10. Their only way through it is to grow up and get better fast. UCLA, who was picked to finish fifth in the conference, is an enigma, a sleeper. They could go 9-6 or 5-10 depending on their in-season progress. With new head coach Rick Neuheisel and his history of turning teams around, the Bruins could be a year or two away from challenging USC, or whoever takes over the Pac-10 this season, for the conference crown. Not this year though.

Other top teams:

Georgia plays in the SEC, the toughest conference in college football, is ranked No. 1 in the nation and expected to finally break through after always being a top-10 team but not playing in the championship game in almost 30 years. Ohio State lost its second title game in as many years in 2007 and looks to change the trend this season. Oklahoma will rely on the nation’s most accurate passer in quarterback Sam Bradford to get to the top. Rounding up the best five, Florida will be carried by a potential 2009 first-overall NFL pick, Heisman-trophy winning, junior quarterback Tim Tebow, who can kill opposing defense
s with either his arm or his legs.

In 1999, the Matadors averaged 313.2 passing yards per game. The stat ranked eight in the nation among Division I-AA teams. Enjoy college football season.