As the cliché goes, “The games you remember are played in November.” And if you’ve followed USC football — or college football in general — even peripherally for the last decade or so, you’ve heard the stat: Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans were 29-1 in the month of November throughout his illustrious tenure.
It actually is quite impressive. Consider the fact that Ohio State lost four November games in the nine years that Carroll was at USC (2001-2009). Texas lost five games, Oklahoma six. Even Boise State, with all of that program’s success, still lost three November games, and they played in a lesser conference.
The record that USC put up is impressive enough in and of itself, but it is more impressive still for what it represents. Those USC teams, as talented and dominant as many of them were, actually got better as the season entered crunch time. When you’re in the running for a BCS Championship, as, again, many of those teams were, each game becomes progressively more magnified. A loss in Week 10 is much more crushing than a loss in Week 3, no matter the opponent. And so, without fail, those teams rose to meet each challenge on the biggest stage.
Nov. 17, 2001: unranked USC knocks off No. 20 UCLA 27-0.
Nov. 30, 2002: No. 6 USC dispatches No. 7 Notre Dame 44-13.
Nov. 1, 2003: No. 3 USC handles No. 6 Washington State 43-16.
And how about November 2006: the Trojans beat No. 21 Oregon, No. 17 Cal and No. 6 Notre Dame by a combined 59 points, including a 44-24 victory over the Irish.
Since Carroll left, USC is 8-5 in November. That’s 7-5 under Lane Kiffin and 1-0 under Ed Orgeron. And that one win — last Friday up in Corvallis, Ore. — was the most Pete Carroll-like win since Uncle Pete himself ran out of town. The dancing, the chanting, the smiles and laughter. To use the word for surely the billionth time in the month-plus since former head coach Lane Kiffin was fired: just plain fun.
Based on this year’s calendar, close to 40 percent of the season will be played in November (or if you’re buying into the so-called “eight game schedule” post-Lane Kiffin, nearly two-thirds). And look at what those games are.
Last Friday’s win (on Nov. 1, mind you) over the Beavers exorcized a lot of demons — not necessarily for this Trojan team, but for the program as a whole. Road trips to bottom feeders Cal (this weekend) and Colorado (Nov. 23) are forgettable. But sandwiching those two: UCLA, a game that needs no further explanation, and Stanford.
If Oregon State exorcized demons for the program, a win over Stanford would do so for this 2013 team specifically. And the 2012 team, and 2011, and 2010 and 2009. That’s how long the Cardinal has had the Trojans’ number. In fact, Pete Carroll’s only November loss as USC head coach came against Stanford in 2009: the infamous “What’s your deal?” game when No. 25 Stanford smacked No. 9 USC all around the Coliseum.
The matchups against the Cardinal and the Bruins were, even at the start of the year, the two most important on the schedule. The fact that they take place at the end of the season — in November — only magnifies that.
There’s no national championship to play for this year. There’s no Pac-12 Championship or Rose Bowl on the horizon either, not without a whole lot of help and a whole lot of luck to go with it. But this is still November. That used to mean something special around here. And that alone is purpose enough.
The games you remember are played in November.
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