To preview this weekend's Emerald Bowl matchup between the BC Eagles and the USC Trojans, we welcome the SBNation USC blog Conquest Chronicles for Five Good Minutes.
In exchange, we also answered some questions for Conquest Chronicles and they will be posted later in the next day or so.
BC Interruption: Any line of questions regarding USC and the Emerald Bowl has to start with star running back Joe McKnight. Can you update us on this situation? Do you expect him to play? Should he play?
Conquest Chronicles: As of writing this Monday night, the common thought here in Los Angeles is that McKnight will likely not be able to play in the bowl game against the Eagles on December 26th. USC beat writer Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News reported earlier that McKnight did not accompany the team buses to the airport for their flight to San Francisco despite the fact that Carroll already said he would be making the trip up north with the rest of the team. But despite the rumblings, we are all still waiting for an official word from USC regarding McKnight’s status for the game.
While I think McKnight may in fact be innocent of the accusations for Scott Schetner seems to be a somewhat honest fellow and has a legitimate side of the story at this point in time, I highly doubt that number four suits up for the Emerald Bowl on Saturday. As we all know, USC is presently under investigation by the NCAA for a "lack of institutional control" so playing a possibly ineligible in McKnight, even if it yet to be proven, risks further damage to USC’s already partially tarnished reputation. I don’t see Carroll and company taking such a risk considering where they are as a program.
BCI: Are there other scratches for USC for the bowl? Do you expect the Trojans to successfully balance possible losses of McKnight, TE Anthony McCoy, and DT Averell Spicer with Carroll’s desire to treat this game as a springboard to the 2010 season?
CC: Spicer was just a reserve so I don’t anticipate his absence to make a huge difference for Troy, but some of the others will. McKnight was the team’s leading rusher with just over 1,000 yards so if he is unable to go, it will force backups Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable to take on larger roles. Bradford rushed for 596 yards this season and Gable remains the only true freshman in the history of the USC football program to ever start a season opener at running back. So, both have the experience necessary to be effective against the Eagles.
I think ‘SC will be most challenged to replace McCoy and offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who was also ruled ineligible for the game due to academic issues. McCoy served as one of Barkley’s favorite targets this season due to his size and catching ability. Lacking a pass-catching tight end is only going to make things harder on a freshman quarterback, especially considering that there is a significant drop off between McCoy and his backup Rhett Ellison. The absence of Smith will force an inexperienced but still talented redshirt freshman Matt Kalil to take over the tackle position. At this point in time, it is yet to be seen whether he can be effective.
BCI: At quarterback, there seem to be similarities between the play of freshmen Matt Barkley (13 TDs, 12 INTs) and Dave Shinskie (14 TDs, 13 INTs). Both had up and down seasons in their freshman campaign. What are your expectations for each QB’s performance on Saturday?
CC: I have yet to see Shinskie play an entire game (I’ve only seen bits and pieces and a few highlights) so I will reserve judgment on BC’s "young" signal caller. However, when it comes to Barkley, I certainly expect him to play well. No, I don’t anticipate him to finish with numbers akin to a Texas Tech quarterback, but I do think he is capable of putting together a solid performance against the Eagles. While he has struggled at times this season (a 31.8 completion percentage against Arizona State and 3 interceptions at home against Stanford), he has compiled solid numbers for any freshman quarterback. 2,385 passing yards and 13 touchdowns while playing in arguably the nation’s toughest conference are nothing to cause a first year starter to put his head down.
In a perfect world, it would be nice for Barkley to play much like he did during USC’s best stretch of the season, early October, when they soundly defeated Cal and Notre Dame. During those games, Barkley threw 283 and 380 yards respectively while leading the offense to over thirty points each time. On Saturday, he doesn’t necessarily need to throw a bunch of touchdown to be successful. What he needs to do to be effective is to limit the interceptions and be efficient with the football (i.e. no errant passes on first down). If he can simply complete passes and keep the chains moving, then USC has a great chance of success.
BCI: Were the preseason expectations for USC too high this year? What are your expectations for next season with a win in the Emerald Bowl? If USC loses to BC, do those expectations change at all?
CC: I think it has become quite clear that a top ten preseason ranking for the 2009 Trojans may have been a bit too high. While the team does have an impressive track record of success, it would be more than fair to say that the media was a little too generous when bestowing USC’s preseason ranking. In short, the expectations were too high, even for a Pete Carroll coached team. And to be honest, that isn’t necessarily a disappointing thing. Look, it was entirely unrealistic for anybody to truly expect the Trojans to be the fourth best team nationally at season’s end. Not only did they have to replace starting quarterback and Rose Bowl MVP Mark Sanchez with a true freshman, but they also needed to find suitable replacements for eight starters on defense. There was just too much talent departing - eleven Trojans were drafted in the first six rounds of the NFL Draft - for anybody to reasonably expect Carroll’s bunch to seriously contend for the national championship.
With that said, because this is a lower-tier bowl, I’m not going to base my thoughts on the upcoming 2010 season entirely on this one game. Yes, Saturday’s contest will serve as some indication in regards to how next year’s bunch will perform, but to frame a prediction off of one good may be borderline crazy. Nevertheless, I still expect the Trojans to be much better in 2010 simply based on the fact that this team will be a year older. Matt Barkley will no longer be a freshman quarterback, sophomore Chris Galippo will not be a first year starter at middle linebacker, and play caller Jeremy Bates will have a year of coaching in college football under his belt. Greater experience and continuity across the board should enable this team to bounce back, and fully challenge for the Pac-10 title and a BCS bowl appearance once again.
BCI: This is the first time in 7 years that USC hasn’t played in a BCS bowl. This game is the day after Christmas in a baseball stadium. Do you expect these factors to limit attendance? Will Trojan fans show up for this game?
CC: Yes, some Trojan fans will show up for the December 26th Emerald Bowl, but don’t anticipates flocks of them to make the journey up to San Francisco. While I don’t have the numbers in front of me, I find it hard to believe that USC is going to sell out its ticket allotment as it is accustomed to doing. Over the past few days, I have received dozens of e-mails and text messages from the USC Ticket Office reminding alumni, students, and fans that there are still plenty of tickets remaining. Well, the game is about four days away and occurs one day after Christmas so I find it hard to imagine that a swarm of fans swoop in to purchase last minute tickets. ‘SC fans can be a bit fickle so that lack of interest in tickets is not surprising in the least.
BCI: Last one, make a prediction. Who ya got in this one? What’s the final score?
CC: Generally speaking, bowl games can be rather tough on prognosticators simply from the standpoint that it is tough to tell whether a particular team will show up or not. While I have little inside information, I do have the feeling that USC, led by seniors Jeff Byers and Taylor Mays, takes this game seriously for they have too much pride as a team to lay an egg against Boston College. Provided they can play mistake-free football, I think the Trojans are a far better football team talent-wise to get steamrolled by a middle of the road ACC foe. In the end, I like USC 28-14.
BCI: Thanks for joining us.
For more information on the USC Trojans, be sure to check out Conquest Chronicles.