USC seniors stayed and got another Rose Bowl



BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson came back to Southern California for their senior seasons and got everything they’d hoped for.

OK, almost everything.

The star defensive linemen enjoyed another year of the “college experience,” took more steps toward becoming well-rounded young men and certainly enjoyed a boost in their NFL draft status.

As for that national title that seemed like a good bet – well, the Trojans came up a bit short on that front, once again.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Which led them back to the Rose Bowl, the second straight year USC (10-2) has made it to the “Granddaddy of ‘Em All” as an also-ran and been put in the awkward position of acting like there’s no better game to be at this time of year.

In fact, messed up as college football has been this year, there’s still only one ultimate destination – and that’s New Orleans for the BCS title game. It’s where the sixth-ranked Trojans were favored to go after a 32-18 romp over Michigan in last year’s Rose Bowl established them as this season’s preseason No. 1.

“I think you can’t help but to imagine those things, the ‘what if, what if,'” Ellis said. “But the reality of it is, we’re in the Rose Bowl, which is a great bowl.”

That’s about as close to candor as you’ll get from these Trojans, who have been well versed in the party line: At USC, you worry about winning the Pac-10 and that Rose Bowl bid first, then let everything else fall where it may.

For those unfamiliar with the spiel, simply refer to the buildup to last year’s game. The Trojans and Wolverines spent the week saying they were happy to be here, even though Michigan had reason to believe it should have been in the title game and USC had reason to think it could win an eight-team playoff. Coach Pete Carroll went so far as to say that anyone who insinuated the Rose Bowl was a consolation prize was nuts and didn’t really get it, when ‘it’ came to college football.

But for those who think Carroll was hunky-dory sitting back accepting another trip to the Rose Bowl, consider this: It was that very same USC coach who, on the night before BCS bids came out earlier this month, was lobbying for the Trojans to earn a spot in the title game.

A 24-23 loss to 41-point underdog Stanford (Yes, quarterback John David Booty broke his finger in that game and still played) was probably the ultimate undoing for USC in this, a season in which LSU made the title game with two losses.

“Unfortunately, that game is killing us right now,” Carroll said that night. “Without that, we’d be coasting into the national championship game. … It’s pretty clear about our team, nobody would want to play us right now.”

Jackson feels the same way. As do Ellis, cornerback Terrell Thomas and defensive coordinator Nick Holt, all of whom came to media interviews Friday and talked about their love of the Rose Bowl and their respect for next Tuesday’s opponent, No. 13 Illinois (9-3).

“I know how we match up against those guys. We’d do pretty good,” Jackson said when asked how USC would match up against LSU and Ohio State, the teams in the BCS title game. “I believe in our team. We have a philosophy and way of doing things. It doesn’t matter who we play or where we play. We can take our game anywhere and challenge anybody.”

Who’s to argue?

And who can argue with the decisions Ellis and Jackson made to stay?

Ellis could have been a low first-round draft pick had he left after last season. Unsatisfied with that projection and feeling harried by the bang-bang nature of declaring as an underclassman, he decided to stay. This year, he was an All-America selection with a career-high 8« sacks. He projected by some analysts as a top-five NFL pick.

“I spoke with Coach Carroll many times,” Ellis said. “He thought it would be a good idea if I came back. I thought it was a good decision. I think we were both right.”

Jackson wasn’t rated quite as highly as Ellis, but he also was strongly considering leaving. He was rewarded with a second-team All-America selection and led the Trojans with 9« sacks. He’s also looking like a first-round pick.

“At one point, I was outta here,” Jackson said. “But then I had to kind of step back. My heart was not really in that decision. Ultimately, I felt there was still work to be done. If we could get most of our core guys back and not have them leave for the NFL, they should be pretty good. So that played a big factor, coming back to a great team.”

It was a crazy year in college football, however – one in which being as great as USC once appeared wasn’t good enough.

The irony is that by returning, Jackson and Ellis, two “team players” who made their decisions for all the right reasons, will benefit on a personal level because their draft status will rise.

As for the team they came back to?

No national title. But none of the Trojans would dare complain about ending the season at the Rose Bowl.