Familiar endings await Trojans

For all that was supposed to change for USC this season, this month could be shaping up to be the perfect November Trojan fans are used to.

Under Pete Carroll, USC used to own the 11th month of the year. The Trojans were 29-1 in November under Carroll (winning 28 in a row), before Stanford broke the streak in embarrassing fashion last year.

The November mystique that seemed to follow USC meant one thing: The Trojans got used to finishing. They got stronger as the season went on, which built momentum for an upcoming bowl game.

It’s well known that there will be no bowling for the 7-3 Trojans this year. But other than that, if all goes according to plan these next three weeks, USC could be looking at another 10-win season propelled by a perfect November and a strong finish.

The Trojans got the toughest test out of the way last weekend, jumping out to an early lead and holding on for a tough road win against then-No. 18 Arizona. The win made the Trojans suddenly relevant again in the national landscape, earning them a No. 20 ranking in the AP poll.

Now, the Trojans prepare for three games in which they should be heavy favorites.

First up are the quickly unraveling Beavers. It’s not just that Oregon State has dropped two games in a row, but rather who it lost them to: a 17-14 defeat at the hands of UCLA at the Rose Bowl, then the unfathomable 31-14 home loss to Washington State.

(That is not a misprint. And yes, this is the same Cougar team whose only other win this season was a narrow 23-22 victory over Montana State).

With the Beavers in total turmoil, even the Trojans should be able to overcome their horrible track record in the state of Oregon. The Trojans swear the Beavers don’t poison the water up there, but I have my doubts; the fact remains that the Trojans have not won in the state since 2005.

Against the Beavers, the Trojans have come away dejected in their last two trips to Corvallis, Ore., including a shocking loss in 2008 when they were ranked No. 1.

But those Oregon losses usually came when the Trojans were looking past seemingly weaker opponents. What makes these Trojans different is USC coach Lane Kiffin, who doesn’t allow his team to look past anyone.

Plus, in this sanctioned season, the Trojans don’t have anything to look to. Everything is about the present.

After the Trojans get past the Beavers, they get their two rivalry games in succession: Notre Dame followed by UCLA.

Point spreads aren’t supposed to matter in rivalry games, so the fact that Notre Dame is 5-5 and UCLA is 4-5 has little bearing. But don’t you think that with their season knowingly stunted by NCAA penalties, the Trojans will play with a little more fire in what amounts to their championship games?

Notre Dame has to visit the Coliseum for USC’s last home game.

That means it will be Senior Day. A whole slew of Trojan seniors (and a lot of juniors) will be playing at the Coliseum for the last time before trying to make it at the next level. Even though the Fighting Irish just upset No. 15 Utah, I can’t see the Trojans losing this game on a day that carries so much emotional weight.

Then there is only room left for the finale, and how fitting that it comes against UCLA on Dec. 4. There will be the usual Los Angeles bragging rights at stake but also some real ones for the Bruins, who might be fighting for bowl eligibility if they manage to win one of their two games before USC.

It will be USC’s last game of the year and the final stark reminder that there is no postseason. The current USC players have had to pay for past transgressions. Here’s guessing that they’ll take that frustration out on the Bruins.

When the curtains do finally close on this season, we could be looking at a 10-win Trojan team, one that went undefeated in November and one that could easily have been two wins richer if not for a few late-game stumbles.

For all that has changed in a year around USC, these Trojans should deliver the kind of ending we’re used to.

“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at jjovanel@usc.edu.