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Published: Friday, 12/29/2006

Even roses can't cheer up UM, USC

PASADENA, Calif. - Happy to be here. Excited by the challenge. A great opportunity against a great opponent. Boffo!

There. That about covers it.

It is what is coming out of players and coaches' mouths in advance of Monday's Rose Bowl game between Michigan and Southern Cal.

But their body language, their demeanor, their eyes give them away. It may be the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of them all, the bowl game that begot all bowl games, but on this occasion it might as well be the Champs Sports Bowl or the Alamo Bowl. Remember the Alamo?

You would think that the Wolverines got on an airplane at Detroit Metro and landed in Siberia. Lose a game, go to the gulags. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

So, forget what's coming out of their mouths. This is the bowl game that neither team wanted to be playing in.

At least LaMarr Woodley, Michigan's defensive end and the Lombardi Award winner, is dishing the straight goods.

"It is what it is," he said. "That's all."

And it also is what it isn't.

It isn't the BCS National Championship game. USC figured to be there with a season-ending win against cross-town rival UCLA. Michigan would have been there with a season-ending win over Ohio State.

Neither came to fruition.

"We weren't expecting this, but we have nobody to blame but ourselves," USC quarterback John David Booty said yesterday. "I'm sure Michigan feels the same way."

Well, yes and no. As a one-loss team, the Wolverines still thought they deserved a desert rematch against Ohio State. So they have issues with the pollsters too. But, yeah, UM knows a win in Columbus would have removed any doubts and any drama.

"We put ourselves in thissituation," Michigan inside linebacker David Harris said. "If we hadn't lost we'd be there. That's all out of our hands now. All we can do now is win this game. USC has all our attention."

It's funny how things happen. The Michigan defense, so rugged so often this season, gives up 42 points in the loss at OSU. The Trojans' high-powered offense scores just nine points in losing to UCLA.

Then UCLA turned around Wednesday night and pretty much waved a white flag while surrendering 44 points to Florida State, a dreadful offensive team teetering on a .500 record.

"That's the UCLA I know," Steve Smith, USC's fine receiver, said in a tone mixing derision and disgust.

The word that keeps being bandied about here is redemption. There will be no title. But there's a chance to ease that came-up-empty feeling.

From the Michigan standpoint, it runs deeper than just the last loss at Ohio State.

"That game was that game and, basically, we didn't perform," a candid UM defensive coordinator Ron English said. "We've addressed it and we've moved on. But there's more to it than that.

"I think we're a good football team, but how good are we? We lost our last game. We've lost our last two Rose Bowls. We've lost our last three bowl games. Can we make a statement?"

Can they find redemption?

"If we go out and play a great game," UM cornerback Leon Hall said, "then Ohio State will be behind us and we can leave happy."

Right now, though, it's not Happy Days for either team.

Perhaps, come late Monday afternoon, when the sun begins to wobble and the breeze freshens over the distant San Gabriels, the winning team will hoist a trophy and feel differently.

Perhaps.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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