USC’s Simple Solution: Recruit A Kicker
It is a question I’ve been asking for a couple of years now.
How can a school with the status, tradition and resources of USC wind up with a walk-on placekicker?
It’s mind-boggling, actually. When you consider the fertile recruiting area that is Greater Southern California and the number of outstanding high school kickers developed here every year, it is almost beyond belief that the Trojans haven’t found one.
But then you remember that Pete Carroll, who never seemed too concerned with special teams, and, to some extent, Lane Kiffin are like all football coaches. They don’t want to “waste a scholarship” on a kicker. It usually comes down to a premier athlete and a skinny kid with a powerful leg. Ninety-nine percent of the time, coaches will take the athlete.
But here’s the twist. You don’t need to “waste a scholarship” every year. Only once every four years, if you do your job right. And besides, you’re not wasting anything.
If you don’t do it, you’re inevitably costing yourself victories. USC proved it again last Saturday when little Joe Houston, a walk-on who shouldn’t be played, missed a relatively easy late 40 yard field goal that basically resulted in a loss to Washington. It will happen again, too. When you play at the highest level of college football, you’re bound to have some close games. And more often than not, close games are decided by kickers.
The pros aren’t any better. NFL coaches don’t want to “waste a high draft pick” on a placekicker. So they usually wait to get someone late in the draft or sign somebody as a free agent. The result? Ask New Orleans. The Super Bowl champs lost at least one game this year because of poor kicking, and now have re-signed 46-year-old John Carney to come back and kick for them.
Kiffin was limited in his first recruiting USC crop, so it’s understandable. But if he doesn’t go out this time and find a big-time kicking prospect, well, he has no right to complain about the quality of his kickers or bemoan the fact he is losing close games.
The topper for USC could come in its last game this season, when the Trojans face crosstown rival UCLA and, when he’s healthy, the best college kicker in America, Kai Forbath.
Maybe if Forbath and the Bruins beat their bitter rivals with a late field goal, somebody at USC will wake up and do the right thing.
Maybe. But don’t count on it.
PICKS OF THE WEEK — Everything started so well last Saturday with Stanford, whom I picked plus-seven, jumping out to a 21-3 lead at Oregon. Unfortunately, they had to play the second half, and the high-scoring Ducks were simply too much for Jim Harbaugh’s guys. A 31-24 halftime lead disintegrated into a 52-31 loss. It was a good lesson. You don’t want to pick against Chip Kelly’s point machine. In the NFL, I fared considerably better with the Jets, minus-five, easily putting away outmanned Buffalo, 38-14. Hey, four weeks down, and I’m still over .500. I’ll take it.
LAST WEEK’S RECORD: 1-1 OVERALL RECORD: 5-2-1
THIS WEEK’S PICKS:
ALABAMA (MINUS SIX) AT SOUTH CAROLINA — The ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier, would like nothing more than to knock off No. 1 ‘Bama. But I just don’t think he has the talent to do it. Nick Saban’s ‘Tide keeps rolling along with what appears to be America’s most balanced team. The defense is overwhelming, and the offense has the experienced Greg McElroy at quarterback and two great running backs in Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Physically, ‘Bama just wears teams down. ‘Carolina shouldn’t be any different.
NEW ORLEANS (Minus 6) AT ARIZONA — The Saints’ offense has been somewhat sluggish so far, but that should end in the desert, where the porous Cardinals have given up an NFL worst 118 points in four games. Arizona starts rookie Max Hall, and Sean Peyton’s defense will be happy to welcome him to the league. Expect plenty of turnovers and more than enough New Orleans points.
— STEVE BISHEFF