THIS COLUMN IS about USC's visit to California on Saturday, but you need to take this pill before we begin. Here you go. Bottoms up! Of course, it's completely safe! You can trust us. We'll put on some Allman Brothers. What's it do? First, it will keep you awake. It also will sharpen your focus. Think six jumbo coffees at Caffe Ladro. It seems that too many are yawning and turning away from this Monumental Contest. That's a mistake. What? The clash of Trojans and Bears, which has decided the Pac-10 pecking order three out of the past four seasons, isn't monumental this go-around? Admittedly, they've combined for five conference defeats. That does take the edge off things a bit. The Trojans, the consensus preseason No. 1, are 17th in the BCS standings. The Bears ran onto the field against Oregon State expecting to become the nation's new No. 1 team, but a month later they awoke and found themselves unranked, losers of three of their past four games. That's a humdrum recap of seasons gone awry. Hopefully, the Speculative V is kicking in. It will help you conceptualize the nuttiness that follows. Here's where we pass through the looking glass: Anyone else wondering if this might be the last meeting of USC coach Pete Carroll and California's Jeff Tedford? Wow, your pupils just got big. Yeah, the Pac-10's two best coaches gone -- blammo -- after the 2007 season. This isn't as crazy as it looks upon first hallucination.
Take Carroll. Rumors of his imminent departure to the NFL pop up every season. What's different now is this: The screws are tightening in the Reggie Bush scandal. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that Lloyd "It ain't easy being this sleazy" Lake, an ex-con who started calling himself a "sports marketer" before he'd actually done squat, is now meeting with NCAA investigators, tattling about $291,600 in cash and gifts he says he gave Bush while the tailback was at USC.
Lake, who also has filed a lawsuit against Bush, wants to get paid and he's trying to turn up the heat on Bush and USC by talking to the NCAA. What this might mean for Carroll and his program is unclear, and it will be hard to connect the dots between USC and Lake, even if they exist. Still, it's the sort of will-it-ever-end muddle that might give Carroll that final push back to the NFL, where he wants to transform a perception he was a washout. And Tedford? Go to Memorial Stadium. Look up. See scruffy looking protesters living in the trees? So does Tedford. They're fighting -- and not entirely without merit -- for the lives of 38 trees, and they are holding up a major stadium/facilities expansion project, the completion of which was guaranteed in Tedford's contract. Construction delays mean Tedford could bolt with little sanction. His contract can be bought out reportedly for less than $1 million, which is a bargain for any big-time coach.
This might surprise you, but there are no protesters in trees outside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., or Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. Does either locale even have trees? And what about Michigan, Penn State, Florida State or Auburn (if Tommy Tuberville bolts for Texas A&M)? Those are big-time posts that could open up. Tedford is a California guy, born and raised. By all accounts, he and his family love the Bay Area. He's got a great gig. Makes a lot of money. The pressure to win in Berkeley doesn't figure to ever boil over. While everything is just peachy, you still never know how an ultracompetitive guy will respond when he's offered $3 million and the corner office at one of the nation's great football factories.
Further, would anybody be surprised if the sagging fortunes of the 49ers didn't inspire a wandering eye toward Tedford, who also has resisted NFL entreaties up to this point? Here's some more fun: If Carroll and/or Tedford bolted, who'd take their places and how might it change the Pac-10 pecking order, particularly with Dennis Erickson quickly consolidating his empire at Arizona State? Who'd be foolhardy enough to follow Carroll's dynastic run? Perhaps ... Tedford?
And would Cal, upon losing its Golden Boy, rein in its program, or would it look for another big-money coach? How's that Speculative V treating you? The actual Cal-USC game might not get your juices flowing. But potential intrigue is there, way beyond unraveling the Holiday Bowl race. Sure, the likelihood of both these scenarios playing out in the next year is remote. But would you bet $5 that both Tedford and Carroll will be at USC and Cal in five years? If you said yes, you've been taking something else besides Speculative V.