Fred Whittingham, who has been hired and fired by John Robinson, will coach against his old boss when Utah meets USC Thursday night in the Freedom Bowl.

"I have no hard feelings," says Whittingham, "because I understand how football is."Whittingham was defensive coordinator at BYU 12 years ago when Robinson, then head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, hired him to coach linebackers. Nine years later he fired Whittingham and the rest of his defensive coaches.

"I don't know if it was an administrative thing, or what, but he fired the whole defensive staff," recalls Whittingham. "I guess they were thinking that's how they'd turn it around, but ever since then (the Rams') defense has been crap. But John helped me stay on as a scout. I owe my whole pro (coaching) career to John Robinson."

After working as a Rams scout for a year, Whittingham became Utah's defensive coordinator. A year after he let Whittingham go, Robinson was fired. He was hired this year to be USC's head coach.

Whittingham compares Robinson to another former boss, BYU head coach LaVell Edwards. "(Robinson) reminds me so much of LaVell," he says. "He knows what's going on, but he lets his coaches coach. He helps solve problems, but he was never looking over your shoulder every day when things were going wrong, telling you what you should be doing."

Will his connection with Robinson be an advantage for Whittingham come Thursday night? "No, I don't think so," says Whittingham. "Football is basically the same everywhere."

SOUNDING OFF: The Utes might be a big underdog (as many as 17 points) heading into Thursday's Freedom Bowl game against Southern Cal, but they don't sound like one. Listen to senior fullback Jamal Anderson, a California native who told the Orange County Register, "If Jerome Bettis had gone to Utah and I'd gone to Notre Dame, everybody would have heard of me before him."

Anderson, continuing his comparison with the Los Angeles Rams rookie sensation, also said, "I know I'm going into his house (Ahaheim Stadium) and I don't want to embarrass myself. All I know is that I run the 40 in 4.6, the same as him. They think neither of us has speed, but I see him now playing tailback and running for all these touchdowns. I can't wait until I get my shot at the NFL."

Anderson has been invited to several NFL combines.

Meanwhile, freshman safety Harold Lusk, another Californian, told the Deseret News, "I'm planning on doing something for this game. It's my first game in front of a national TV audience. I want to make my presence known. People know about my big brother, Henry. It's time they know about his little brother."

AND THE OTHER 10 PERCENT? After missing a victory over UCLA and a Rose Bowl berth by just four yards in its regular-season finale, USC wasn't exactly gung-ho about post-season play.

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"Initially, maybe the two days afterward, a lot of us wanted to pack it in, especially the seniors," says fullback Deon Strother. I know I didn't feel much like playing. I was kind of numb.

The Trojans were no happier when it became clear that for the second straight year they would play in the Freedom Bowl - against Utah. Athletic Director Mike Garrett announced that he would try some back-room manuevering to get USC out of its Freedom Bowl commitment and into another bowl, but of course it never happened. The Trojans took a similarly condescending approach to playing Fresno State in last year's Freedom Bowl and lost 24-7.

"Last year, we really just weren't ready to play," punter Martin Boskovich told the L.A. Times. ". . . But now, if you took a poll, I think 90 percent of us are excited about this game."

As you might expect, Ute coaches are not exactly playing the role of peace keepers here. "In our meetings the coaches bring it up, how USC doesn't respect us," says defensive tackle Blaine Berger. "The feeling is that because we're in the WAC and they're in the Pac 10, they're a level above us. The biggest thing we've got going for us is that we're being underestimated. We're glad to be playing USC. It's a great oppoirtunity for us. This is a chance to put Utah football on the map."

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