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Ed Orgeron emerges as strong candidate for USC job

Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
Interim coach Ed Orgeron has guided USC to a 5-1 record since taking over for Lane Kiffin.

It's a pretty common thing for players to get together and say they want the interim coach to be their coach for good, especially if the coach has as good a relationship with the players as Ed Orgeron, who has guided the Trojans to a 5-1 record since taking over for a struggling program that was 3-2 at the time then-coach Lane Kiffin was fired.

The week of Kiffin's firing, I named five candidates who could potentially replace him as head coach, guys who could appeal to the city and USC alums alike, and also have an impact as a recruiter.

Orgeron was not among the five at the time but has since emerged as a possibility by turning around a team that had been the laughingstock of the conference. He is well regarded by nearly everyone as a fine defensive coach, but what sets him apart in the coaching ranks is that he is a tremendous recruiter, in my opinion one of the best recruiters ever. He has a great ability to connect and relate with young players, the type of coach you'll see on the sideline giving his players high-fives or a big hug around the neck.

In a town of stars, though, the obvious question that athletic director Pat Haden has before him is, which coaching candidate can bring that "wow" factor for this great job? Who will be held high on a pedestal and bring instant recognition to the program? Already, Haden has interviewed one of the big-name, high-profile candidates I had listed two months ago in Jack Del Rio, a former Trojans linebacker who has been an NFL head coach and is the current defensive coordinator/interim head coach of the Denver Broncos. Two other big names on my list, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Washington's Steve Sarkisian, also have been linked to the job.

But is Orgeron the answer over those coaches?

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One factor to consider with Orgeron and the Trojans this season is that they were a much better team than their performance and record indicated at the time Kiffin was fired. In fact, many people before the season picked them to win the Pac-12 South. This is a good team with a lot of talent. What happened, I think, is that the USC players just didn't respect Kiffin and did not play up to their abilities the way they have for Orgeron, a lovable guy who recruited probably 50 percent of the players on the USC roster.

Orgeron doesn't have the name recognition of a Jack Del Rio, but I do think he brings the "wow" factor as a coach. As I said, I believe Orgeron can hold his own against anyone in recruiting. Del Rio has the advantage of being a former NFL player and head coach, but Orgeron has such an overriding tenacity as a recruiter that I don't think there is much of a difference between the two when it comes to that responsibility.

Whomever the Trojans hire, I believe Haden's job will be easy. He has to pick the right guy, of course, but a lot of right guys have emerged as possibilities for this job. Orgeron is the right guy, Del Rio is the right guy, Sumlin is the right guy.

Haden is one of the most skilled people I know -- anytime you can be a quarterback in the NFL and get a law degree, too, that means you're pretty special. He's a brilliant guy who knows his football.

Baylor beware

Baylor is considered a pretty big favorite at Oklahoma State, but considering the history of this series, you have to be a little concerned if you're the Bears.

Over the past five meetings -- three at Stillwater and two at Waco -- the Bears have been outscored by the Cowboys 216-106 and have a 1-4 record. Three of those losses have been at Oklahoma State, which is where the game is played Saturday.

In addition, Baylor fans do not travel well. Teams like Texas and Oklahoma will go on the road and have half the seats be filled by their fans. I expect 90 percent of the fans at Saturday's game to be for Oklahoma State.

Other Week 13 games that interest me

Texas A&M at LSU: Although neither team has a chance to get into the SEC championship game, this is a longstanding rivalry, and both teams will be up for it. Last year, A&M jumped to a 12-0 lead early on a very good LSU defense, but the Tigers went on to score the next 24 points en route to a victory. The offenses for both teams are very good, though I'd give A&M a slight advantage, but the difference in this game will be LSU's superior defense. I like LSU to win this one, 49-37.

Utah at Washington State: The Cougars, who gave head coach Mike Leach a two-year extension this week, have five wins and need one more in the next two games to be eligible for a bowl bid for the first time in 10 years. This game is so important to Leach and Washington State that even Sharon, Leach's wife, might participate as a cheerleader this weekend. Utah has won the last two games between these teams, but will be without QB Travis Wilson on Saturday. The Utes' defense uses a variety of blitzes, but Leach is very good at handling exotic defenses. Washington State 27, Utah 20.

Upset special

Kansas over Iowa State: Kansas finally broke into the win column last week against conference teams. The Jayhawks have a pretty strong running game, and late in the year when the weather gets worse, teams that can run the ball usually have a better chance of winning. Iowa State gave up 405 yards last week. I think James Sims will have a big game and lead the Jayhawks past Iowa State.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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