This has been a rough year for USC football.
Sure, the Trojans are 5-2 and just decimated a Cal team that, until two weeks ago, looked like decent competition in the Pac-10.
But don’t be fooled. The temporary happiness that USC is currently experiencing only masks the lingering damage that it withstood to get to this point, which could aptly be considered the college football equivalent of 2012, slightly bearable. From the gut-wrenching departure of Pete Carroll to the dream-crushing NCAA sanctions to two consecutive last-second game-winning field goals, this season has been a firestorm of disaster.
In fact, for all of the adversity that the team had to deal with, the only thing that wasn’t thrown the Trojans’ way was a break.
But for those of you waiting on pins and needles for this period of relief to come, you can now get out your calligraphy pens and flowered stationery because the NCAA scheduling committee deserves a thank-you card.
The placement of USC’s bye week, directly after the Cal game and directly before its colossal clash with powerhouse Oregon, should be thought of as nothing less than a blessing from the football gods. The chance for the Trojans to recuperate might be the most important thing that happens to USC this entire season.
The current injury list from Thursday’s practice reads as such: Redshirt sophomore defensive end Wes Horton, senior linebacker Malcolm Smith, senior offensive guard Butch Lewis, freshman Dillon Baxter, senior tailback C.J. Gable, senior center Kris O’Dowd, senior tailback Allen Bradford and junior offensive tackle Tyron Smith did not practice, and redshirt sophomore defensive end Nick Perry, redshirt sophomore offensive guard Khaled Holmes, redshirt freshman offensive guard John Martinez, senior tight end Jordan Cameron, redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler and redshirt freshman defensive end James Boyd, all of whom were limited in practice.
Hypothetically, if the Trojans played Saturday instead of having a bye week, they would be without 10 players that have started at some point this season.
But because those players can nurse their ailments while back-ups get much-needed practice time with the first-team squads, the Trojans have the chance to go from being decimated by injury last week to fully prepared this week, all because they don’t have to suit up on Saturday.
And with a game against No. 1 Oregon — in which the Trojans will need to do everything right if they want to come out victorious — fast approaching, this downtime might be the slight difference between felling the Pac-10 giant and falling to 2-3 in the conference.
All season, the Trojans have tried to make the most of their situation, coping with a new system and a miniscule depth chart. They didn’t tackle in practice for almost the entire summer and fall camp, and players have been moved around constantly to try to combat injuries.
Sometimes, it has worked — the Trojans started 4-0 and looked very much like USC teams of old as they handily beat Cal two Saturdays ago.
But at other times, the team’s lack of depth shone through even the Trojans’ most desperate attempts, making it glaringly apparent that not even a lead late in the fourth quarter could mean sure victory for USC.
If last game was any indication, the young, inexperienced Trojan team that entered the season has matured — in the span of only seven games — into a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball, but injuries continue to weigh it down. With the bye week, USC now has the opportunity to heal and reset as if the season were going to start anew Saturday, but with one difference — the knowledge and experience acquired by each player, learned only by being dragged through the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
Considering all of the challenges USC has faced so far, facing Oregon on Saturday suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
“One-Two Punch” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail James at firstname.lastname@example.org.