I’m sorry, really.
We at the Daily Trojan — the editors, the writers, the columnists — along with seemingly every other media outlet and the rest of the country bought into USC’s hype this season.
We got sucked up into everything, the whirlwind of the offseason, with the free agent-like addition of running back Silas Redd.
We couldn’t stop talking and writing about returning starters for the nation’s preseason No. 1 team.
This newspaper’s first issue in mid-August highlighted the fact that the Trojans were prepared to leave lasting legacies. One of the first football-related stories of the semester discussed how the offense “harkened back” to that of the 2005 team.
And on several occasions over the last week, yours truly highlighted what now seem like far-reaching, if not impossible, possibilities: USC playing for a BCS national title and Matt Barkley earning a trip to New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, given to the most outstanding player in college football.
For us as students, it’s hard to separate fandom from objectivity. Most of us have at least one cardinal-and-gold T-shirt tucked in our dresser drawer.
We can recite the SoCal spellout with the best of ’em and we’ve wolfed down 2:30 a.m. Chanos. (Three weeks later, I think I can still feel it).
But we also hold ourselves to a higher measuring stick, so to speak, because of that second part in our titles: student journalists.
And it’s our job to adhere to that second part.
We’re expected to ask questions that probe, not pamper. We’re supposed to scrutinize, to point out the things that don’t look quite right. We’re instructed to analyze critically, not promote. More than anything, we’re told to be honest and fair.
As I watched the unraveling of USC’s season last Saturday in Tucson — a 39-36 loss at the hands of Arizona — I couldn’t help but wonder if we missed something over the last couple weeks.
Did we forget about the issues regarding depth and scholarship limitations? In the fourth quarter, the Trojans’ 75 looked gassed. Certainly they weren’t better than the Wildcats’ 85.
Did we neglect to highlight Barkley’s issues with interceptions? The right-handed senior quarterback has now thrown an interception in five of the Trojans’ eight games this season, already surpassing 2011’s total of seven.
Did we overlook youth on the offensive line? For the first time in school history, a freshman started at left tackle for USC, versus Arizona, and sophomore Aundrey Walker, though not suiting up against the Wildcats, has suffered his fair share of growing pains. It’s a far cry from Matt Kalil protecting Barkley’s blind side.
Did we take assistant head coach Monte Kiffin at his word that the defense would simply get better with time and experience? No matter how experienced, they still gave up 588 yards of total offense to Arizona.
Did we fail to ask whether USC coach Lane Kiffin was functional in playing two different roles: head coach andde facto offensive coordinator? Could he instill discipline as the head of the program while concentrating on his offensive game plan? It didn’t look like it Saturday. The Trojans were penalized 13 times for 117 yards and committed five turnovers, while Kiffin was drawing up reverses on fourth-and-two.
Maybe we didn’t give these things enough scrutiny.
Maybe we assumed that a 10-2 finish last fall would of course serve as a springboard for this season.
Maybe we assumed “USC was still USC,” to steal a line from Lane.
But it’s our job to accurately dissect this team as writers and editors making up your student newspaper.
We’re asked to separate fact from fiction and truth from spin.
That’s the media’s role, more or less, to serve as a watchdog for the program.
And could we have done better?
Six of our seven sports columnists, the ones who partake in the weekly “Best Bets,” predicted at the onset of the season that USC would in fact win a BCS national championship, keeping in line with the Associated Press poll, which also had the team at No. 1.
Boy, does that seem like a long time ago.
Whatever USC’s hang-up was, we missed it this preseason, because as is rather evident now: The Trojans clearly aren’t who we thought they were.
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