Rod Sweeting was in his early teens when USC experienced its last renaissance. The Trojans and their Heisman Trophy winners and string of future NFL stars out in Los Angeles were seemingly a world away from his Locust Grove, Ga., home.
Now, the Georgia Tech cornerback gets a shot at USC in the Sun Bowl. Its a matchup he never would have expected against a team that was preseason No. 1.
I said to myself coming to Georgia Tech that Id never play against USC, Sweeting said. Now were playing them, the great Reggie Bushs, Matt Leinarts, LenDale Whites, those type of players.
Marqise Lee, the latest in that line of Trojans superstars, already has Sweetings attention
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore wide receiver dazzled in winning the Biletnikoff Award and finishing fourth in the Heisman voting. He caught 112 balls for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns, was first in the nation, averaging 9.3 catches per game and was second in receiving yards per game (140.0).
But it wasnt just what Lee did on the perimeter that made him so deadly.
He sits third in FBS with 215.6 yards of offense per game, averaged 17 yards every time he touched the ball and also had a 100-yard kickoff return to his credit.
His stats tell the law, Sweeting said. Hes one of the best in college football.
Hes a defensive coordinators nightmare, lining up on the short side, wide side, in the slot and in the backfield. Its a constant movement used to create one-on-one matchups and get Lee the ball in space.
And once he does, more often than not, the play ends with Lee in the end zone.
Hes got great hands and great ability but, I mean, when he catches the ball, its hard to find one guy to get him down right then, Yellow Jackets interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said. Really he has a complete game. Hes got really good ball skills and knows what to do with it after he catches it.
Just two years removed from high school, Lee isnt NFL draft eligible. But he has already made an impression on scouts, including NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang.
Youre talking about a guy who has size; who has instant acceleration and the vision to make big plays after the catch, Rang said.
When you look at all the physical elements that he brings to the table, as well as the intangibles, I think hes going to come into the NFL and become an elite Pro Bowl receiver very early in his career.
For at least one more year, Lee will continue to terrorize college defenses. So how -- or more importantly can -- you slow him down?
With eight 100-yard games including a Pac-12 record 345 against Arizona -- and seven with double digits in catches, few teams have come close. But he was taken out of his game by Washington corner Desmond Trufant.
Frustrating Lee with press-bail coverage in which he make it look like he would jam him at the line before dropping back, Trufant held Lee to two receptions and 32 yards (both season lows) and zero touchdowns.
Hawaii also found some success by jamming Lee at the line and getting physical with the Trojans star, though he still finished with 10 receptions for 197 yards and a score.
But the Yellow Jackets have caught glimpses of what can help them at least contain the All-American.
Weve watched every video that weve had on them, every game, Kelly said. Weve done some things, have looked at some things over the last couple of weeks and hopefully it will give us somewhat of an advantage.
Its a Jackets secondary, though, that has struggled against some of the better receivers theyve faced, giving up 113 yards on seven catches vs. Clemsons DeAndre Hopkins, while Boston Colleges Alex Amidon had seven receptions for 118 yards and Miamis Phillip Dorsett caught nine balls for 184 yards.
The unit ranks 67th in FBS vs. the pass, allowing 239.2 yards per game, and is 81st in pass efficiency defense. Plus, its likely to be without the teams leading tackler in safety Isaiah Johnson, who has suffered an undisclosed injury in a recent practice.
If dealing with the dynamic Lee wasnt enough, theres also the matter of his fellow wideout Robert Woods -- a former 1,200-yard receiver who had 813 yards and 11 scores this season and running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, a tandem that produced 1,513 yards and 11 scores.
Everybody talks about Lee, but Woods is the real deal, Kelly said. Then you put a running game in there and then theyve got good tight ends. Theyve got a good scheme, they change, move people around, so its hard to target where theyre at all the time. It makes it a challenge.
Oh, and running the show could be the preseason Heisman candidate in quarterback Matt Barkley, whose status is unknown after suffering a shoulder injury Nov. 17 against UCLA.
If hes unable to play, coach Lane Kiffin would likely turn to freshman Max Wittek, who threw for 186 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against No. 1 Notre Dame in his first career start.
Regardless of whose at QB, it doesnt change the fact that Georgia Tech will have its hands full with Lee, who has 11 plays of 40-plus yards and eight of 50 or more.
Hes a playmaker and they want to get the ball in his hands because hes good in open space, Sweeting said. We gotta key in on him.
If this season has taught Sweeting and the rest of college football anything, it's that Lee will be hard to ignore.