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Wake-up Call: Joe Paterno, Mark Sanchez, Peyton Manning, Chad Pennington, Wrigley Field

January 2, 2009 | 11:30 am

First things first: USC would beat Florida or Oklahoma. At least the Trojans would if they were to play those teams the way they played the first half in the Rose Bowl game. And believe me, they would. The Nittany Lions finally came alive in the fourth quarter, but too late. As Joe Paterno (in the above video, courtesy of espn.com) said after the game, his team, ranked sixth in the nation, had to play their best game if they were going to have a chance to beat the fifth-ranked Trojans. "They didn't in the first half," he said of his Nittany Lions. And Mark Sanchez made sure USC took advantage, becoming the star of the game. He was responsible for 4 TD passes and ran for another. He was 28 of 35 for the day with no turnovers. Paterno, who is such a class act, also said USC was the best football team in the country, the BCS title game notwithstanding. Bill Plaschke agrees, suggesting that AP voters crown the Trojans national champions. Adam Rose on The Times' "All Things Trojan" blog offers you a chance to vote on the question. Here is our own poll with three different questions. I've added Texas because I'm not sure how the USC defense would handle Colt McCoy. You tell me. Give us your score predictions by adding a comment.

Jump to NFL? Will Sanchez, who is a junior, go to the NFL? He said after the game that he wasn't sure what he would do. He has 13 days to decide. Second question: Will Oklahoma Coach Bobby Stoops go to the Denver Broncos? The Denver Post broke the news that Stoops' name is in the mix. Supposedly the Cleveland Browns are interested in Stoops as well. But Denver is probably a whole lot more interested in getting Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, not Stoops. The Denver Post's John Henderson says Stoops is not such a good fit for the Broncos. But here's the thing I'll add: Stoops probably has been waiting for this kind of perfect storm (his team is in the national championship game and there are a whole lot of NFL openings) for years. His ego will carry him to the NFL, no doubt.

Triple crown: Peyton Manning was named MVP by the AP today, making it three times he has won the award. Until now only Brett Favre had won it three times. What's funny is looking back at some of the columnists who jumped on the Favre bandwagon in November. This season Manning has thrown for more than 4,000 yards with 27 TDs. Of the 555 passes he has thrown, 371 were completed. He had just 12 interceptions. And his team could go to the Super Bowl again. The Times' Sam Farmer last night posted a cute item on Manning, perhaps sensing that the quarterback out of Tennessee would be named MVP. If the Dolphins' Chad Pennington had thrown for 4,000 yards (he had 3,653) and had more TDs (he had 19) he would have won it. It was, after all, such a good story: Pennington, spurned by the Jets, who wanted to make room for Favre. Here are the rest of Pennington's stats. And Pennington could get to the Super Bowl too.

Wasn't Wrigley great? The Red Wings' victory over the Chicago Blackhawks was so much fun to watch. Maybe it was because it got back to the game's roots. But I think it had a lot more to do with seeing the great Wrigley Field full of snow and ice. Our Helene Elliott offers her final thoughts on the game. My favorite part was hearing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at a regular-season hockey game and realizing that Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita are no singers but who cares.

Finally, baseball: Let's not forget that spring training is only a few months away. And ESPN's Jon Heyman takes a look at the free agents who are left and gives his top 20. And, yes, Derek Lowe and Manny Ramirez are on that list.

-- Debbie Goffa

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