Trojans managed their talent poorly

Go ahead and argue the expectations were too high. Feel free to question whether USC, once the Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 team, was overhyped heading into this season — that a top-10 rank in August was unbefitting for this group.

But before you rant about premature predictions from the summer, before you declare that the hype and the added attention were unwarranted, think back to Nov. 26, 2011: Thanksgiving weekend roughly one year ago.

There was quarterback Matt Barkley, then a junior, standing atop a ladder in front of a USC student section in the northeast corner of the Coliseum, conducting a few remaining band members. The No. 10 Trojans had just defeated UCLA by a now-infamous score of 50-0 to cap off a perfect November, which included a three-point upset win over Oregon at Autzen Stadium the week prior.

Remember, they closed 2011 with seven wins in eight games.

They were improving each week, they were talented and they returned many of those talented players — nine of 11 offensive starters — heading into this season.

There were myriad reasons to rank USC highly in the preseason and just as many to insist the Trojans’ ceiling stood several floors higher than this season’s eventual 7-5 finish — the latest defeat coming last Saturday against No. 1 Notre Dame.

Nonetheless, we’ve reached the Monday morning quarterbacking stage where we attempt to string together explanations for, at least statistically, the most disappointing finish for a preseason top-ranked team since 1964. And oddly, the latest idea gaining steam is, naturally: the expectations were too [darn] high.

“We were probably overhyped at the beginning of the year, being perfectly honest,” Athletic Director Pat Haden said Wednesday in an ESPN Radio interview.

Sorry, I’m not buying it, even coming from Haden.

That notion is misguided, and more than anything stands as a cover for the sobering reality: This was a gross mismanagement of elite talent.

There are reasons the hype took off in the first place — because of that talent, because of that finish of 2011. And that talent, with decorated All-Americans galore, never evaporated this year.

As announced Monday, 19 USC players were named to various All-Pac-12 teams at the conclusion of the season, in addition to other honors, most notably sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee’s selection as the conference’s offensive player of the year.

The roster has its weaknesses, of course. But so does every roster. And though USC’s roster is capped at 75 scholarship players because of NCAA sanctions, it’s been well documented that quite a number of schools, such as Georgia and LSU, aren’t playing with a full roster of 85. Not to mention USC coach Lane Kiffin has admitted he played less than 50 scholarship players in 2011 — a 10-win season.

So let’s stop crying about talent, roster limitations and expectations. This is USC, right?

We’re reminded so often that this program boasts more NFL draft picks in history than any other school. We’re told how great its recruiting classes have been over the last decade, especially since Kiffin arrived on campus nearly three years ago.

So are we really to believe that mighty ole ’SC wasn’t as talented as UCLA? Or as Arizona? Or heck, even Oregon?

There are potential first-round picks on both offense and on defense, but that never translated to Saturdays.

Of the Trojans’ seven wins in 2012, only three came against teams with winning records —  Syracuse, Washington and Arizona State. Moreover, they failed to defeat a single team ranked in the top 25 for the first time since the 1997 season.

You can fault whomever you’d like — Kiffin, his father Monte, who’s tasked with running the defense, or anyone else — because there is, of course, enough blame to dish around for months.

But don’t buy the company line. Lofty expectations were never the issue.

Simply, talented USC was a No. 1 team that belly flopped in front of the 90,000 faithful.


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3 replies
  1. Bill N
    Bill N says:

    Sure the blame for a 7-5 USC team starts with the coaches. However, you ignore the fact that the players throw INTs, drop passes, fumble, make penalties, miss blocks and miss tackles. When a team with at least as much talent (according to the media) as 2011 that finished 10-2 and No. 6 and with mostly the same coaches, makes so many execution mistakes you have to hold the players accountable. I read every article about USC spring, fall and season practices, and no one criticized the coaches for not preparing the players. No one predicted that USC would lose 5 games as a result of poor preparation. To write this article after the fact is easy. Why didn’t you predict that USC would not do well this year since you attended the practices last year and this one? I think that if you ask the players, they will admit that the mistakes they made were mostly their fault and it cost USC 5 losses.

    • Manny
      Manny says:

      Great points. While I do fault the coaching for a lot of bad plays on both sides of the ball, we can’t overlook Barkley’s shockingly, yet consistent, poor decision-making. Marquis Lee, as good as he is, has coughed it up usually once per game. And why aren’t we throwing to Woods and Agholor more often? They are both insanely good and take care of the ball (TE’s also!). Silas Redd, while not a bust, hasn’t done enough and fumbled way too many times. Why not use Curtis McNeil more? He had some fumbles, but had some great games near the end of the season. And the sudden crumbling of this defense is probably worst of all. If we had made one or two more stops, ND wouldn’t be headed for Miami.

      I do blame the coaching staff for not putting together a complete, solid performance all year. EVERY game was cringe-worthy, and I haven’t even brought up the number of penalties (among the worst in the country, many of them just plain dumb and undisciplined) and missed tackles. It’s truly sad how a team with so many returning starters and a lot more to play for this time around NEVER improved from one week to the next, let alone over the entire season. Our team is projected to go to the Sun Bowl. We share records with the Arizona schools. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, unashamed: our team was the most overrated in the country this year. I personally don’t think the expectations were too high – this team had plenty of talent to win it all this year, or at least the Rose Bowl. Last year, they could have beat down anyone, and I mean anyone, in the country at the end of the season. This drop-off is alarming.

      In my view, Stanford is the only team we should have lost to (well, we shouldn’t have lost any, but oh well). I underestimated just how good they are, even without Andrew Luck. Oregon’s D is as crappy as ours, UCLA didn’t cough up the ball every other play, Arizona is terrible, and I still don’t really buy Notre Dame (have you seen the pansies on their schedule that they eeked away from?).

  2. Steve B.
    Steve B. says:

    I believe the unexpected loss to Stanford was the start of the downfall of the season. Finally playing against
    that team w/o Andrew Luck to bail them out, a win was definitely anticipated. Once that loss occurred Kiffin
    played to not lose for a second loss would eliminate the team from possible BCS title or top tier bowl game
    except the Rose Bowl. The Washington game was a prime example leading 24 – 7 at halftime and then not
    scoring in the 2nd half being conservative to hold on when UW fumbled at the three yard line in 4th qtr. Talent
    more than enough for a ten win season.

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