There’s no doubt about it: Last season was the worst season for USC football since the year Pete Carroll took over in 2001. The Trojans went 9-4, lost to lowly Washington, got blown out at Oregon on Halloween, humiliated at home on homecoming against Stanford and fell to Arizona on the last day of the regular season.
A lot has changed since then. There’s a new head coach, a new athletic director, a new star receiver and, as we’ve seen throughout the year, a whole new secondary.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the results. The Trojans still lost to Washington and Stanford this year — albeit in games that were so close the score might have changed if only Willow Smith showed up to whip her hair back and forth — and lost by 21 to Oregon at home.
Which is why, if the Trojans want to prove that this season is different than last year’s and that the program is on the rise and better off with all these changes, they need to beat Arizona on Saturday. This is USC’s last chance to make a statement this year. Arizona is the last team the Trojans face whom they lost to last year and the last ranked team they play this year. Not to mention the game on Saturday is on the road.
USC came into this season with high hopes. Sure, the NCAA handed down sanctions that were harsher than a black cherry Warhead. But there was talk of the team sticking it to the man and going 13-0, 12-1 or at least 11-2. The Pac-10 title seemed within reach.
Then the season started.
Even though USC started 4-0, it was clear this team was going to have trouble staying undefeated the rest of the season. Just as it was beginning to show last year, the defense, which had been USC’s hard-hitting, no nonsense, fearsome staple for the past decade, hasn’t been its former self this year. Trojan defenses just don’t give up 53 points in a game and let the opposing team march down the field for game-winning field goals — twice.
The Trojans have had chances to make statements this season. They faced Washington, who beat USC last year with the former USC coaching staff, but the Trojans couldn’t prove that last year was a fluke.
Then they faced Stanford on the road and couldn’t pull out the victory that would’ve vaulted them back into the Pac-10 title picture. Then came Oregon, and on national TV, USC finally seemed to show signs of its former self. For three quarters, it looked like the Trojans had recovered from the NCAA’s knockout blow. But the fourth quarter hit, and USC stumbled around before crashing hard and staying down for the count.
That’s not to say this team hasn’t changed for the better. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley is fourth in the nation with 24 touchdown passes and has matured into arguably one of the best quarterbacks in college football. USC coach Lane Kiffin has taken over the program and ensured that the team keeps fighting and competing even though the stakes are naught.
If USC loses to Arizona but rallies to beat Oregon State, Notre Dame and UCLA, nobody will turn their heads. USC is supposed to beat those teams, even though a matchup with the Beavers will be played in Corvallis, Ore. Finishing 9-4 would be nice and would be on par with the team’s record last year. But the program needs to move forward, and 10-3 and a top-20 ranking looks a heck of a lot better than 9-4.
Some fans will say that as long as USC beats Notre Dame and UCLA, the season would be salvageable.
Those are the few loyal fans. As we’ve seen this year, when USC doesn’t play well, fans drop off by the thousands. The reported attendance for Saturday’s game against Arizona State was just less than 69,000, but I’d say it was closer to 60,000. It’s sad that the Coliseum isn’t full week in and week out like stadiums for 6-3 teams in the SEC or Big Ten country, but if the Trojans can get this statement win against Arizona, it will increase the hype for next year and maybe the Coliseum will come alive like it did a few weeks ago against Oregon.
And who knows, USC might even be able to play for the national championship next season, so the higher the Trojans can be ranked at the beginning of the year, the better the chances of that happening.
In a sense, next year starts now.
However, it all comes down to this: If USC still wants teams to fear those three letters, the Trojans need to show that they are better than last year’s team, which hasn’t been the case thus far. They need to prove that even with the sanctions, which have undoubtedly hampered the team, they can beat good squads. They need to prove the spirit that USC is not in a state of decline.
The way they can do that is by beating a ranked team on the road — one they lost to last year. There’s no doubt the team will fight on, but this is the last chance to hold up the two fingers for victory in front of the nation.
“Spittin’ Sports” runs every Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org.