What a difference a year makes.
Last summer it became a daily ritual to digest a smattering of national headlines regarding USC football along with my morning cereal. This summer, however, it seems the only buzz surrounding the team is senior tailback Marc Tyler’s well-documented night on the town.
Though some teams would do just about anything to get a 10-second spot on Highlight Express, the silence could not have come at a better time for the Trojans.
With the NCAA squashing its appeal, USC finally ended a 19-month media field day that vilified the program and made it seem like a thousand student agents lie in wait outside of practice each day to woo players with various improper benefits.
Now, without any legal battles or investigations pending, the team is left with just its season to focus on, which for the first time in a long time contains traces of consistency from the year prior.
If this doesn’t seem like a huge development to you, then consider this:
The team has already spent a year adjusting to coach Lane Kiffin and his staff. A harsh realization for many USC fans last season was that no amount of talent could make up for a lack of experience and comfort within a system — a truth that was especially obvious on defense. Now, not only do returning players have in-game reps from last season to build on, cornerback Nickell Robey and now-defensive end Devon Kennard, have had an entire offseason to prime their wheels.
Assistant head coach Monte Kiffin is sitting on a wealth of young talent for the second year in a row. But for the first time, he’s not playing catch-up to prepare his players for the fall. This should pay dividends, especially early in the season.
But even more so, this is the first season in recent memory where the annual revolving door that is graduation and the NFL draft didn’t completely decimate the Trojans on either side of the ball. This isn’t 2009 when the Trojans had to replace their entire linebacker core in All-Americans Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga. The defense will have seven starters, the most it’s had in the last three years. The offense, though slightly fresher, returns with its key players in tow, including the dynamic tandem of junior quarterback Matt Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods.
Never mind that there won’t be a bowl game to play — everyone who isn’t a new student has dealt with that reality already — and forget that the team can’t win a Pac-12 championship. These things won’t prevent a player from doing everything in his power to win a game.
“There is a lot of build up before the season about no bowl games,” Kiffin said. “But once you get going, you’re in practices and you’re walking down that Coliseum and getting ready to play, I really don’t think they think much about that.”
The talent has been put in place by Kiffin and his staff. And thanks to the end of the media hype, there should no longer be anything hindering the team’s mental preparation.
Of course, as with any season, there are a lot of “ifs” that will determine the ultimate success of the team. But compared to last year, the magnitude and weight of these “ifs” are much smaller. The 2010 Trojans dealt with almost every distraction imaginable and still were just a few mistakes, blown plays and ill-timed penalties away from recording a 10-win season. The current squad has had a year to get accustomed to the unstable environment they play in, and now that the hoopla of past transgressions has died down, it will be easier to move forward.
For the time being, embrace the silence a long, hot summer has brought to USC. If the Trojans continue to mature the way they have over the past year, there will be more than enough headlines to take in once the team hits the field.
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