Last week, college football saw one of the greatest upsets in its history. The Stanford Cardinal triumphed over the mighty USC Trojans 24-23 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The win saw USC’s 35-home game win streak snapped.
Stanford was a 41-point underdog coming into the game and were playing without its starting quarterback. The team was attempting to rebound from dreadful losses to UCLA and Arizona State. No one could have predicted the outcome of this game, except for some Stanford crazies who are too loyal to the Cardinal to think straight.
A loss for USC, however, should have come as no surprise. The Trojans barely escaped with a win against Washington. The play of the Trojans greatly concerned me and made me flash back to the Trojan wonder years. The Trojans’ play suggested that the program was not at the same level it once was.
I have been a diehard SC football fan since 2002, when it was awful. The Paul Hackett era was one of the worst for Trojan fans, and the university needed an immediate change.
I admit that I did not agree with the hiring of Pete Carroll. He was a mediocre coach who experienced limited success in the NFL. His first season at SC did not begin all that well, but ended encouragingly with a six-game win streak until LaDainian Tomlinson’s Texas Christian University Horned Frogs snapped it in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The following year, the Trojans fielded my favorite squad yet. Led by Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu, Matt Grootegoed, Justin Fargas, Kareem Kelly and young freshman Mike Williams, the Trojans went 11-2 and stomped fourth-ranked Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
Carroll’s defensive mind and Norm Chow’s offensive wizardry guided the Trojans to two consecutive national titles in the following years. Carroll’s defensive halftime adjustments almost guaranteed victory for the Trojans in that span. Chow, the most underrated coordinator in college football, groomed three Heisman Trophy winners- Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush- in his time at USC. After Chow left for the NFL, I became seriously concerned.
Chow’s replacement offensive coordinators were Steve Sarkissian and Lane Kiffin. Both did not have experience in the position, but benefitted from a full returning offense. With a Heisman quarterback who practically knew Chow’s playbook by heart and was given full control over calling audibles in Leinart and perhaps the best player in college football history in Bush, Sarkissian and Kiffin did not have to do much work to receive all the credit in their first year in the position.
Their second year was their first real test, but they still had the best wide receiving core in the nation in Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. The season ended bittersweetly. A huge upset loss to UCLA in the final game of the season forced the Trojans into the Rose Bowl rather than the national title game.
I have never been convinced about Sarkissian and Kiffin, who is now with the Raiders, and I have never been convinced about John David Booty. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but never enough to get me back to the same comfort level I had with Leinart and Palmer, despite the fact that Leinart and Palmer were not as heralded as Booty coming out of high school.
Many, if not all, college football experts had USC winning the national title this season. I could not really fathom their confidence. Sarkissian is not a good coordinator, Booty is not the prolific passer many think, and the only experienced unit on the offense is the offensive line.
I expected USC to lose at least one game this season, but not to Stanford. The win against Washington struck fear into me. Booty threw two awful picks, and USC barely escaped. Stafon Johnson, the most successful of the 10 USC running backs, was out with a foot injury. The fact that Booty was only throwing to his TE, Fred Davis, was also very discomforting.
Unfortunately, Booty had the worst game of his life against the lowly Stanford Cardinal, throwing four interceptions and forcing the SC defense to take the field way more than it had to.
It was important to note that Stanford was given a very generous ball spot on the fourth and 20 plays on the last drive, and got away with an offensive pass interference by Mark Bradford on the game-winning touchdown catch. However, given Stanford’s performance in the game, they deserved those two breaks.
Whether it was the inexperience of the wide receivers, absence of Johnson, play-calling of Sarkissian, or poor play and decision-making of Booty, the Trojans need to get their act together. Stanford, the worst team in the Pac-10, showed them what happens when they are not ready to play.
The Trojans struggled again this last Saturday against Arizona, winning 20-13. Although it is always tough when a new quarterback is starting (redshirt sophomore Mark Sanchez) the Trojans barely escaped another lowly Pac-10 team.
I have come to accept that USC will not get back to the national prominence they recently had. They have lost too many coaches to other programs and the NFL, and the current coaches just do not match up.
With that said, I still expect USC to contend for at least a Pac-10 title every year. It would be a disappointment if the team didn’t with the myriad of talent they have.
I guess I am just an SC fan who has become arrogant with the teams success and I should not be complaining.