Trojans need past to become present

History is on USC’s side. Recent history, that is.

If anyone has learned anything from the trend of losses to inferior, unranked opponents, it’s this: One loss does not end a season. Usually.

Somehow, some way, a strange brew of events over the last three years seems to give one-loss USC a shot at getting back in the national title picture.

Last year was an odd case. The voters and computers and everything else determined that USC’s one loss was worse than Florida’s one loss.

That is, a loss on the road on a Thursday night against a good Oregon State team after a blowout win over another BCS contender was worse than a loss at home to a good Mississippi team.

Scheduling Virginia, Ohio State and Notre Dame in non-conference games apparently carries less weight than Hawaii, Miami, the Citadel and Florida State.

But I digress.

So, two out of the last three years, one loss didn’t end the Trojans’ season.

Three years ago, the 6-0 Trojans were teetering on the edge with each passing week. They beat three straight conference opponents by an average of 6.3 points before the wheels fell off in Corvallis with a 33-31 loss to Oregon State.

But that didn’t end USC’s title hopes.

No, the Trojans were back in the national title picture a few weeks later, and all they had to do was beat UCLA at their place.

13-9, and that was done. But it was the second loss — not the first — that did USC in.

What about the next year, 2007? A 4-0 USC team falls 24-23 at home to Stanford.

But with the rallying cry that one loss doesn’t decide USC’s fate, the Trojans rebound with a 20-13 victory over Arizona and a 38-0 drubbing of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., led by backup quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Only after the 24-17 loss in Eugene to Oregon were USC’s national title hopes officially laid to rest.

So how was this made possible? Let’s just say that ESPN’s college football motto is, “Every week can change the season.”

In 2006, being ranked in the top five was a curse. Texas, LSU, Notre Dame, Auburn (twice), Florida, USC (twice), West Virginia, Louisville, Michigan and Arkansas all lost in that position.

In 2007, more of the same. Appalachian State delivered the keynote address with its stunning victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Florida, Oklahoma (twice), West Virginia (twice), USC, Wisconsin, LSU (twice), Cal, South Florida, Boston College, Arizona State, Ohio State, Oregon, Kansas and Missouri all lost while ranked in the top five.

See where this is going? This year, the Trojans have already been joined by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the top-five-teams-that-get-upset category.

Yes, the Sooners lost because quarterback Sam Bradford was injured. But the Trojans were without Matt Barkley and Taylor Mays (if you ask me, one of the more underreported reasons for losing the game) in Seattle.

Injuries played a key role in 2007, when No. 2 Oregon went to Tucson in mid-November, only to see quarterback Dennis Dixon injure his knee and the Ducks’ national title hopes disappear.

Injuries happen; they’re the great equalizer. They’re impossible to predict, and often devastating.

That’s not to say that injuries will continue to play a significant role in this season’s title game chase, just that they might. They’ve happened before, and they can happen again.

So recent history is on USC’s side. But the history being written right now? Not so much.

The Trojans still have to run the gauntlet of ranked Pac-10 opponents on the road, which doesn’t even take into account the game in South Bend in a month.

They have to do with inexperience at quarterback, youth on defense (although that has yet to be an issue) and problems on special teams (which is a topic for an entire story itself).

So can it be done? Yes. The chips have been in place before. But will it be done? Let’s just say that a lot has to happen.

Luckily for USC, a lot has happened in the past.

“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Thursday. To comment on this article, visit or email Grant at

1 reply
  1. SEC Fan at USC
    SEC Fan at USC says:

    Grant, Grant, Grant. I am disappointed. Did you do any homework before you wrote this article?

    First off: introductions. I am an SEC fan who attends USC. Let me just start out by saying I love this school. I love the city, the people, and my department is highly respected around the world. But one thing that I simply can’t get past is this football nonsense. Granted, being an SEC fan all my life makes me a little biased, especially against USC. But this past weekend proved many things. Before reading this, I knew that it proved that the media darlings of USC were, yet again, overrated. However, after reading this and many similar articles, and having heard the talk on the street, I now know that it also proves USC will always rebound after a loss–with a tedious list of whiny excuses that championship teams simply shouldn’t make. This is the first time I’ve been in L.A., and needless to say, the first time I’ve ever witnessed a patented USC meltdown up close and personal. It was pathetic. The whining and excuse-making is unparalleled. Maybe some of you should go through high school again.

    I wish Barkley would have played, I really do. Know why? Because SC would still have lost. And in that scenario, the excuses being thrown around would have been, “Barkley is a true freshman, he’s still new to the game.” SC was outplayed, bottom line–by a team that went 0-12 last year. Championship teams don’t lose to unranked teams annually. SC does. Give me a break, and give it a rest.

    Let’s break down this gem: “Scheduling Virginia, Ohio State, and Notre Dame in non-conference games apparently carries less weight than Hawaii, Miami, Citadel and Florida State.”

    Seriously? Ohio State? We ARE talking about the same Ohio State that got blown out by SEC teams two years in a row, right? The one that struggled to beat NAVY this year? And what’s this, you’re also citing Notre Dame in your favor? Notre Dame is perhaps the only team who rivals USC in terms of being overrated. This is a team who also lost to Michigan State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Syracuse all in the same year. So remind me, how does this strengthen your argument? And VIRGINIA? Nice try, but I think you’re confusing them with the more formidable Virginia Tech, who also has a funny tendency to never live up to expectations (remember that LSU game?). The Virginia you’re talking about works against your argument, considering they went 5-7 that year. We all know that if Virginia’s joke of a football team ceased to exist tomorrow, only a small fraction of college football fans would even notice. Furthermore, your stab at Florida’s non-conference games is semi understood, but is there a reason you refuse to discuss conference games? Oh, right. Because you must know that Florida actually played 3 games against top 10 teams that year. USC played…. how many? Do you even know? If anyone is ever foolish enough to argue that USC is better than a top-notch SEC team, they should be advised to NEVER mentioning scheduling, and hope that the person who they’re arguing with is just as foolish as they are. Year in and year out, USC has one of the cushiest schedules in the country.

    Quit making USC out to be a martyr. USC’s football team’s worst enemy is, quite simply, its inadequacy. Perhaps if USC would stop scheduling overrated media darlings like themselves, they’d get some credit from people who actually know what they’re talking about. But then again, scheduling overrated media darlings is the secret to USC’s success and winning records. Oh, by the way, it wouldn’t hurt if USC would actually stop losing to unranked teams. I swear, this is the only football program in the country that will lose to Oregon State and Stanford in the same year and still argue that they’ve earned any semblance of a right to call themselves BCS contenders.

    Oh, my favorite sentence of the article: “The Trojans still have to run the gauntlet of ranked Pac-10 opponents on the road.” Is that a joke? What is this “gauntlet” you speak of? Cal is the only ranked team (#6) USC has left. And let’s be honest, California is not the number 6 team in the country. They never are. History proves that Cal is a good team, but not a great team by any means (they’ve gone 16-14 in the last two seasons). It’s almost like the author of this article wasn’t really thinking about what he was writing, because he expects most people who read this article to be idiots.

    History is on USC’s side. You bet it is. Historically, USC plays one, MAYBE two above-average teams a year–the rest of the schedule is laughable. I’d love to see the look on Pete Carroll’s face if he had to play Alabama and LSU regularly. Bottom line, USC can moan and complain til the end of time. Consider yourselves lucky, because you’d be getting 4+ losses a year in the SEC.

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