How things can change in a week.
Last week I wrote that USC was on track for a 10-win season and that it would finish the season on a roll much like it has in previous years.
Now, everything that seemed so certain a week ago is mired in doubt.
Everything changed after the Trojans suffered their most embarrassing loss of the season, a 36-7 whacking by Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. Not only did they lose another game in the state of Oregon, but they seemed to have lost their mojo. Any momentum built up by two tough wins over the Arizona schools has been squandered.
Whereas last week we were talking about a double-digit win total and a sense of improvement over last year’s measurable dip, now we have to face the reality that this season could get ugly.
Forget 10 wins. Can the Trojans even reach eight?
The only way to sell what remains of this fractured season is that the Trojans can still beat their two rivals in their final two games. Notre Dame and UCLA have been anything but impressive this year, so USC should be the favorite. But who knows what the fallout is going to be from last week’s debacle.
Most importantly, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley’s status is questionable after he suffered a high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss the entire second half against the Beavers. Barkley’s status is still up in the air, opening the door for senior quarterback Mitch Mustain to start his first game at USC.
Mustain’s performance in the second half last week, however, was not encouraging. He finished with only 60 yards on 8-for-17 passing, without a touchdown or an interception.
This is not to say that Mustain is not a capable leader of the offense. He, after all, has been learning it since he transferred here in 2007. And he is undefeated as a starter, going 8-0 as a freshman at Arkansas before transferring to USC.
For the naysayers who have been calling for Mustain to get his shot even before Barkley went down, I’m sorry to disappoint you. The Trojans are a much better team with Barkley at the helm.
But if Barkley can’t go, Mustain is still a capable backup. It’s beyond that where it gets a little hairy.
The No. 2 quarterback will likely be walk-on John Manoogian, who has never taken a snap in a college game. Freshman Jesse Scroggins will likely not be available because the Trojans do not want to waste his redshirt year.
What does this all mean? If Barkley can’t go, Trojan fans should be praying to the football gods that Mustain doesn’t go down as well.
Injuries and disillusion in the rest of the backfield only add to USC’s woes. Junior running back Marc Tyler reinjured his sprained ankle and was unable to finish the game against Oregon State.
Senior tailback Allen Bradford has been plagued by fumbles this season. Freshman tailback Dillon Baxter, who did not make the trip to Corvallis because he allegedly accepted a golf cart ride from an agent, is awaiting reinstatement.
That leaves senior tailback C.J. Gable, who scored the Trojans’ only touchdown against the Beavers.
USC’s offense has been the lynchpin of the team all year. Before nearly laying an egg last week, the Trojans were scoring more than 35 points a game, winning games in spite of their spotty defense.
So the prospect of USC playing its final two games with backups at quarterback and running back means the Trojans might have to gnash and claw their way to wins in games that were supposed to be breezes.
Notre Dame, although just 6-5 this season, has dominated its last two games against Utah and Army. They have momentum on their side and a freshman quarterback in Tommy Rees who is playing with confidence.
The Bruins, meanwhile, make USC’s troubles seem nitpicky. UCLA is in total disarray after an embarrassing loss to Washington and has quarterback issues of its own.
Overall, all hope is not lost for USC. There is still time to salvage some kind of hope from this season.
But after the weekend USC had in Corvallis, there are no guarantees anymore.
“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.