USC and Michigan: A Tale of Two QBs, A Tale of Two Programs


They were both powerhouses in their respective conferences. They last met in the 2007 Rose Bowl. USC beat Michigan 32-18.

Lloyd Carr would coach the Wolverines one more season, winning the Capital One Bowl, 41-35 over the former national champion, Florida.

Carr then turned the reins over Rich Rodriguez, the former West Virginia head coach. Rodgriguez took over a team that had been on the decline for several years, playing in the shadows of Ohio State.

But under Rodgriguez, who instituted a new offensive scheme, the bottom quickly dropped out as Michigan wound up 2008 with a 3-9 record, 2-6 in the Big Ten.

USC, on the other hand, had not finished any lower than fourth place in the BCS polls for seven consecutive years. They had won at least eleven games in seven consecutive years and were Pac-10 champions for seven consecutive years.

This year both Rodriguez at Michigan and Pete Carroll at USC handed their offenses over to true freshmen quarterbacks.

The season started off on a high note as the Wolverines won three straight non-conference matchups with true freshman Tate Forcier at the helm, including a last second 38-34 victory over Notre Dame.

Michigan then opened its Big Ten season with a closely fought 36-33 win over Indiana. But since then they have suffered six straight conference losses and sit at the bottom of the Big Ten in danger of not making a post-season bowl game.

USC is not in danger of missing a bowl game. However, their string of sevens has abruptly ended and with it their string of BCS Bowl appearances.

Like Michigan, USC began the season with a true freshman, Matt Barkley, under center and won its first two non-conference games including an 18-15 win over Ohio State in Columbus.

But Barkley suffered a bruised shoulder and missed the next game, a 16-13 defeat at the hands of the rebuilding Washington Huskies.

After Barkley’s return, the offense had strong showings against Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon State. But the defense began to show trouble signs barely holding off the Irish and the Beavers.

Then the bottom fell out as the offense sputtered and the defense completely caved in at Eugene in a 47-20 rout by the Oregon Ducks.

The following week in Tempe, the offense did not run one play in the Arizona State red zone the entire game, which the USC defense won 14-9.

Today has to be considered one of the worst losses in USC history, especially before a home crowd at the Coliseum. The true freshman quarterback that Pete Carroll and USC had pinned their hopes on threw three interceptions as the Stanford Cardinal spoiled the Trojans homecoming 55-21.

It was the worst home loss since 1966, a 51-0 loss to Notre Dame and the most points ever allowed by the Trojans. The 111 points the Trojans have allowed in three games is also the most over three games in the school’s history.

For Barkley, who was totally outplayed by red-shirt freshman Andrew Luck, the game represented a new low in his young career. “This isn’t what we grew up watching,” Barkley said. “I’m not used to this… I don’t know what to think right now.”

Part of his confusion is that he has been coddled all season long by Carroll and his staff and told how great he is, but his on-field performance hasn’t come close to matching the hype.

Barkley has very little mobility in the pocket and very little competition from backups Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp. Except for Aaron Corp starting the Washington game, neither one has seen any real time on the field even when Barkley has faltered.

Forcier, unlike Barkley, has been criticized at times by Rich Rodriguez and has also been benched a few times in favor of another true freshman, Denard Robinson.

But in today’s 45-24 loss to Wisconsin, it was Forcier who kept Michigan in the game, converting a fourth-and-9 play to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 28-24 in the third quarter.

However, like the USC defense, Michigan’s defense could do little to stop Wisconsin from that point on.

But Forcier, unlike Barkley, remained unfazed by the loss and determined. “If I have to spend 10 hours this week watching film, I’m going to do that,” Forcier said. “We’re going to get the seniors to a bowl game. We’re going to come out and do what we need to do to beat Ohio State.”

Rodriguez, on the other hand, had no idea how he could right the ship and keep it afloat. “Defensively, we are reaching to find an answer to stop people,” Rodriguez said.

Still, Rodriguez hasn’t given up all hope. “There’s no question we’ve got one more chance (against Ohio State),” Rodriguez said. “I’ve asked the team to be extra focused. We’ve been focused all year, but this is the biggest game of the year. Our guys know that.”

Pete Carroll’s sentiments after the total embarrassment at the hands of Stanford were very much in line with those of his despondent quarterback.

“I’m not sure I have the right words to describe being humbled like this,” Carroll said. “I don’t really know where to put it. … We have fallen apart and given our opponents the opportunity to do whatever they want.”

So, where do these two storied programs go from here? Which one will best be able to pick up the pieces of a disappointing season and regain its former glory in 2010?

Michigan under Rich Rodriguez with Tate Forcier at the helm or USC under Pete Carroll with Matt Barkley taking the snaps?