Nothing compares to the challenge facing coach Pete Carroll right now.
Not preparing for an undefeated Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Not getting ready to face Vince Young in the Rose Bowl.
Not convincing prized recruits to come to USC rather than another school. Not assembling one of the greatest offenses in college football history.
No, nothing compares to what Carroll must do now.
He must find a way to motivate a group of young student-athletes who are physically and mentally worn down to win two more regular season games and a meaningless bowl game.
A tall task.
This shouldn’t be a question for the game a week and a half from now. The Trojans shouldn’t need any extra motivation to prepare for this cross-town rivalry.
There’s still something to play for in that game — and there always will be.
USC never wants to lose to UCLA, even if it were in nothing more than a knitting competition.
But what is there to play for a week later against Arizona? The Wildcats still have a chance to win the entire Pac-10 Conference and get to Pasadena.
They will be hungry.
USC? The Trojans are playing for the Sun Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, the Emerald Bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl or the Holiday Bowl.
None of those games have the pageantry or the prestige of the Rose Bowl Game.
Of course, Carroll will never call any game as such, and definitely not a bowl game.
But it’s hard to treat any of those games as more than insignificant, especially when he openly admits that the goal at the beginning of every year is to be in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
It’s no secret that the Trojans had designs to be there on Jan. 7.
But those plans are all but a distant memory now, as are thoughts of New Orleans, Miami or Glendale, Calif.
Say hello to Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego or El Paso, Texas.
Not exactly bastions of college football glory.
It would be hard to blame any of the Trojans for being unenthusiastic about the prospects of playing in any of those games.
Do you think senior safety Taylor Mays signed up for this when he decided to come back for one more season? Do you think freshman quarterback Matt Barkley wanted to be playing in mid-December instead of early January?
And what about the rest of the Trojans? They’re in a world of hurt. They have enough injured players to fill an infirmary ward.
It seems as if every Trojan has been banged up at some point during the season.
Barkley and Mays missed USC’s loss to Washington.
Senior tight end Anthony McCoy was absent for the Trojans’ defeat against Oregon.
Junior wide receiver Damian Williams missed Saturday’s loss to Stanford and remains doubtful for the remainder of the regular season.
The list goes on.
And what about their mental state? It has been a draining season for everyone involved.
One week after an emotional come-from-behind victory at Ohio State, the Trojans were on the road yet again at Washington.
They had to stare across the field at two men who had been mentors — and treat them as enemies.
They went on the road to Ohio State and Notre Dame, and played six of their first nine games away from the Coliseum.
That is tough to ask of any football team, regardless of its caliber.
Not to mention the results on the field, which have been unprecedented in the Carroll era.
When USC finally made it home for good, it was too late — the physical and mental damage had been done.
Now, Carroll must motivate his team for two more grueling football games.
He must guide a worn-out team through uncharted waters toward a port of call they never expected to see.
He must ready his team to bring the same intensity as they would with a Rose Bowl berth on the line — but in this case, with something less in the offing.
This might be Carroll’s toughest challenge of all.
“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.