New Year's Day duels don't disappoint

Rose Bowl: Trojans trounce Michigan, will likely finish atop Monday's AP poll

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

PASADENA, Calif. Point made.

Top-ranked Southern California laid out its case for the national championship the best way it knew how by dominating No. 4 Michigan with a 28-14 victory Thursday in the Rose Bowl.

Matt Leinart threw three touchdown passes and caught another to lead the Trojans past the Wolverines with a performance that should be enough to persuade voters to leave USC atop the poll.

The Associated Press' No. 1 team has never dropped in the rankings after winning its bowl, and it doesn't look as though it will happen this time, either.

''I think we just won the national championship,'' jubilant USC coach Pete Carroll said.

While the Trojans are primed to win their first title in 25 years, they would have to share it. Voters for the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll are obligated to crown the winner of Sunday's Sugar Bowl between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma, playing in the BCS championship game.

The Trojans were left out of the Bowl Championship Series title game because of a weaker schedule, but they felt right at home in front of a sellout crowd of 93,849.

Leinart, the game's MVP, shredded the nation's sixth-ranked pass defense for 327 yards, and the Trojans (12-1) had a season-high nine sacks and even blocked a field goal by Michigan (10-3).

The signature play came late in the third quarter when Mike Williams took a reverse handoff from Hershel Dennis and flicked an easy pass to Leinart, who jogged in for a 15-yard score that made it 28-7.

With the big lead, all the Trojans needed to do was run out the clock and start waiting for the final AP poll early Monday morning. After building a 14-0 halftime lead, USC took control on the opening drive of the second half.

Leinart capped it with a perfect 47-yard scoring pass to Colbert, who caught the ball with one hand near the 25 despite being interfered with by Jeremy LeSueur. Colbert then broke a tackle and jogged in for the score.

Michigan answered with a 16-play drive, capped by Navarre's 5-yard pass to Tim Massaquoi to cut it to 21-7. But Williams' pass to Leinart put the game away.

The Trojans last won a share of the title in 1978, when they also beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to win the coaches' poll, while Alabama took the AP title. USC hasn't won the AP championship since 1972.

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