Anthony on LA: Slow down on USC football

There is no better duo in L.A. sports than 1. A period of sudden success after a long period of turmoil, and 2. Every fan of that team declaring “we’re back” — and it’s happening right in front of our eyes with USC.

Look, I get it — the Trojans are good, really good. But, how good is the question?

See, if you’ve read my columns in the past, you’ll know me as a positive outlook person, a rarity among Los Angeles sports fans. Whenever fans lose faith in a team, I roll out my carpet of positivity to hopefully change their minds. 

In this case, I’m not completely sold by this team. Now, before you close the tab or throw away the paper, hear me out. 

The last time USC started a full season 3-0 was 2017, when the Trojans knocked off four straight wins to start the year. USC went 11-3 that season, which included a marquee bowl game appearance and the Trojans’ most recent Pac-12 Championship. 

Since then, well, how much detail do I need to go into? 

USC hasn’t won a single bowl game or conference championship since then. The Trojans have notched 19 wins to 14 losses between 2018 and 2021. A program with a storied history evolved into the biggest punching bag in college football. 

But now, USC football is finally relevant after multiple seasons of mediocrity and flat-out embarrassing play. No more “Fire Clay Helton” chants or Twitter mentions flooded with “Hire Urban Meyer” accounts. The Trojans have their guy now — Lincoln Riley. 

And behind one of the more unique rosters in college football history, Riley has led USC to a quick 3-0 start and No. 7 ranking in the AP Poll, its highest ranking since, wait it can’t be, 2017

The offense is explosive, averaging a ridiculous 50 points per game through three matchups. The yards per game are eclipsing 500 per game — the Trojans haven’t averaged that many yards per game in an entire season since 2005.

The defense is, well, still a work in progress, but promising. Last year’s defense was quite possibly the worst in USC history. It allowed 409 yards and 31 points per game. 

So far, it’s almost day and night for the Trojans this season. No opposing team has scored over 30 points yet and USC has done a strong job of forcing turnovers — 10 in three games compared to six through the same total last season.

Those numbers may be difficult to keep up, but it’s encouraging to see a defense make big plays when a team is on the doorstep for points. There’s still a long way to go as Stanford and Fresno State both had long, comfortable drives for touchdowns, but a good sign overall. 

All of this leaves fans rightfully excited. A team that’s as spectacular as this one will bring any former USC fan back to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The Trojans haven’t been this good in years, and the stench left behind by Helton makes everything Riley brings refreshing. 

I’m in the same boat. As sports editor of the Daily Trojan last year, covering a 4-8 football team became an unenjoyable outing. I began to dread game days, wishing the Trojans could at least make it interesting and show some life even while down 20. 

Most of the time that wasn’t the case and USC’s losses numbed the experience of covering a program like this one. I had been to the last Rose Bowl victory in 2017. I remembered the glory days of the Trojans. I hoped it would return before I entered one final year of USC football as a student. 

And for the most part, the Trojans are back, but, I ask you to hold on and wait. 

USC has yet to play a program with an equal amount of talent. Rice University, Stanford and Fresno State are solid names with minimal talent, completely outmatched by the Trojans’ superteam of an offense. 

Outside of the Rice thrashing, there have been some moments when the outcome might have been shifted. 

Stanford ran all over the Trojans on the road, but two costly goalline turnovers turned the game upside down. 

Going into halftime against the Bulldogs, USC was up 21-10 and then senior starting quarterback Jake Haener exited the game due to an injury on the first drive of the second half. Fresno State managed just one touchdown for the rest of the game. 

Would Haener, who threw for over 300 yards in the Bulldogs’ first two games, lead them to a win? Probably not, since no one can compete with USC’s offense.

But it’s not wrong to believe that the Trojans haven’t played real competition yet. The schedule is lenient for Riley with no Oregon or Washington in the regular season. USC plays a struggling Notre Dame team at home, but it will have to travel for a meeting with Utah. 

Maybe I’ll buy into this Trojan team after a win in Salt Lake City. But for now, as Lee Corso says, “not so fast,” USC fans.