End of the Regular Season Edition – 12/6/09

Though I still plan to throw out some “musings” throughout bowl season and perhaps around national recruiting deadline day, I do feel that this week’s edition is bringing this season to a close.  It has been a lot of fun, and this year was certainly quite a bit different from last year (being done via my new website as opposed to regular email distribution).  I enjoy writing the musings because I enjoy college football, so taking the time to “muse” about it really comes naturally for me.  Whether or not you think there is anything valuable in the musings, I appreciate you reading them, and look forward to getting back at it next year.  There is nothing as fun as college football, with college basketball being not far behind.  I hope to muse on for years to come.

SC’ fans like myself have a lot to be encouraged about.  John McKay won national championships and conference championships throughout the 1960’s, and then came into two 6-4-1 seasons in a row to start the 1970’s.  The next year?  The greatest college football team of all time – the 1972 USC Trojans, who never so much as trailed at halftime, and walked over everyone they played on their way to a perfect season.  McKay and the Trojans went to 6 of the next 8 Rose Bowls (some of which were with Robinson-led Trojans after McKay went to the NFL), and those two seasons between two decades of dominance served as the re-building and re-loading years you would expect to have.   Truth be told, even a John McKay-worshipper like myself has to admit that this decade of the Carroll-led Trojans have been superior to anything even McKay put together.  As a body of work, seven consecutive conference championships, two Orange Bowl victories, four Rose Bowl victories, three Heisman trophy winners, and an overall record like no one has ever seen really do represent the greatest dynasty in the history of college football.  This year will prove to be an interruption to the dynasty, in my opinion, not an ending of it.  It was a disappointing year.  A couple things happened that Trojans are just completely not used to: Losses at home (Stanford and Arizona), and blowout losses (Oregon and Stanford).  One of the things that has to be included in the description of this year era of dominance (2002-2008) is that there was one home loss that entire period, and absolutely no blowout losses – none.  An 8-4 record is a surprise to many of us, but should it be?  Are there football fans that actually think any team -any program – can seriously win at an 11-1 or 12-0 pace every single year, for all eternity?  If so, I would suggest to you that a person with those expectations is going to be disappointed with his own life in a macro sense.  I believe USC can win every year, and I think we can compete with any team in the country.  The reality is that USC was the best team in the country at the end of 2002 and 2008 in addition to their 2004 and 2005 championship seasons.  But the ebb and flow of coaches and coordinators and players and injuries and all these other realities makes for a landscape where an 8-4 season like this year is not to be unexpected (no matter how disappointing it may be).  If anything, a year in which our promising true freshman quarterback and a virtually brand new defense beat Ohio State, Cal, and Notre Dame on the road, and in which both of our rivals were defeated, is hardly a “disaster”.  USC beat Oregon State, and they were a whisker away from winning the conference.  USC beat the tar out of Cal, and they beat Stanford.  This was an odd year, and much needs to be said about it, but the reality is that this is part of our journey.  And if we go 0-12 next year, it will not change one bit the love I have for this program, and my commitment to the cardinal and gold.  Those who seemed so shocked by that, or only use college football as an excuse to exceed .20% in blood alcohol content, just need to understand that some thing can not be understood by those outside of the USC community.  To believe in the mantra of “fight on” is to be in the mantra of “fight on”, and if you have to ask why we are the way we are, all I can say is, you are not ever going to be how we are.  It is a lifestyle.  It is in our DNA.  And there is absolutely nothing like being a Trojan. 

To the fake Trojans who jumped on the bandwagon in the Leinart-Bush years I say, good riddance.  Go find another team to follow and feign interest in.  Spend hours of your week on their websites talking about how you are a better offensive coordinator …  But leave us alone.  Being a Trojan means peaks AND valleys.  You deserve not the former because you know not the latter.

Going into the off-season, I think the priorities of the team have to be finding an offensive identity, and strengthening the physicality of the defense.  For the most part (and yesterday’s game-losing touchdown was an exception), we have simply never struggled with giving up long pass plays.  It just has not happened at USC under Carroll.  But the front seven of our defense (every one of which will be back next year) needs to get better, and get stronger.  And as for the offense, I expect Joe McKnight ought to come back (but you just never know), but I do not expect Damian Williams to come back.  The offensive line loses a couple key guys, but the major ingredients are there for this offense to become much improved.  I want to see a near elimination of the bubble passes and sideways passes that Bates has depended on so much, and become a downfield running team.  I believe that when we do that, we get first downs and touchdowns.  When we don’t do that, we depend on major game-breaking plays, and it is too hard to win that way.  Reggie Bush is, for my money, the greatest college football player of the last 25 years.  He is gone.  We can not rely on him as we did in 2004 and 2005.  What we need to do better is play to our strengths.  We have a great pocket quarterback and a guy who can run boots and nakeds to his heart’s content.  Bubble passes, the screen, the sideways pass – I just don’t think we need them.  Too much of this year was spent trying to protect Matt.  Next year, I expect the offense to be much, much improved.

It is ironic that after years of maintaining that the Pac-10 conference as a whole means nothing to me (which it doesn’t), and seriously not caring about the SEC tools who have whined and moaned about how good their conference is, that in the year USC finally loses a few games the Pac-10 becomes by far the most equitable and powerful conference in football.  I will guarantee you that Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and Oregon State could all be the #2 or #3 team in the SEC this year, if not #1.  USC has been the best team in the country for years, but the Pac-10 has not been the best conference in the country.  This year has seen a change in all of that.  One of our worst teams, UCLA, went into Tennessee and won (a team that really has SEC champ, Alabama, beaten – on the road!).  We will see if the Pac-10 can sweep in their bowl games again as they did last year.  All I know is that Pac-10 fans should be careful what they wish for …  The Pac-10 now has a ton of parity and strength and national respect, yet USC lost four games (all in conference).  Go figure.

Gone are the days of the teams that appear in the national championship beating Auburn, Colorado, Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Arkansas, BYU, etc. in their non-conference schedule.  Here are the days of panzy non-conference games being the key to getting into the big game.  Parity is what is best for the sport, and I love it.  But it is not best for individual teams, and the results have been a catastrophe for the fans.

I want to say this about the Charlie Weis firing. The guy was not a good head coach, and it is obvious why he was fired. He never once beat a single team that finished the season in the top 20!!! His record of losses to losing teams will never be broken at Notre Dame. The team got worse, not better, while he was there. He just couldn’t right the ship there, and my opinion is that he is a classic case of belonging in a pro coordinator position (not as a chief executive). However, as mean as I have been to Charlie and as obvious as the need for this firing was, I am not sure if I agree with all of the demonization of this guy’s swagger. Yes, he said and did some ridiculously cocky and silly things over the years. But I do not know what the choice is. I largely think the same thing about Lane Kiffin’s awkward first six months at Tennessee as well. These guys are in a risk business. No one loses money on Wall Street when they don’t take any risks. They also get fired for failure to perform. Coaches need to set a tone. Programs need leadership. They need fire. If a cocky comment at a press conference plays into that, I support it. The only person who looks like an ass if it doesn’t play out is the coach himself. If people think guys like Carroll, Saban, Spurrier, and Meyer do not have the same element to their personality, they are naïve to a fault. Charlie didn’t back it up, and now he is gone. But sometimes you have to give it a shot.

Lane Kiffin has sent chills up the spine of other SEC coaches in year one. Not only did he go 7-5 in his first year, but he performed far better against Florida than anyone else did, and really had Alabama beat (twice) IN Tuscaloosa (were it not for two blocked field goals).  The loss to UCLA remains inexplicable, but I think they will enter that top tier of SEC teams very soon.

My musings last week were so short that I didn’t get into all the needed commentary about the UCLA hubbub at midfield. I obviously threw out the window the silly notion that Carroll did anything wrong – anything whatsoever – in that play action pass late in the game. But in all the talk about who was at fault – Neuheisel for calling a timeout when USC took a pacifist knee – or Carroll for making him pay for it – one thing seems to have slipped through the national conversation. How come UCLA was not flagged for putting 70 people in the middle of the field (in the middle of a game) and acting like a group of hoodlums, thugs, and gangsters? Why was no one thrown out? Will any of their players be disciplined, suspended, or kicked off the team? Did the refs mean to imply that mob behavior is allowable? If anyone wants to check out the rules in that situation (and I can tell you what they are), and then watch the UCLA circus behaved (the replay is easy to come by), it should not be hard to see what I am talking about. Utterly classless, embarrassing, thuggish behavior.

Are Oregon and Oregon State that GOOD offensively, or that bad defensively? The answer: Yes!

It was brutal to watch USC’s defense repeatedly give up third down (and even fourth down) conversions yesterday (in the first half). I am just not used to it.  The second half was much better, with the only excpetion being that last drive.

I have to say, for one of the first times all year yesterday, Barkley’s receivers sure didn’t help him much. McCoy dropped a very catchable touchdown pass in the middle of the fourth quarter and we had to take a field goal. Even Damian Williams dropped several balls, and it looked to me like he didn’t go after that ball much in the first quarter that got picked. Matt did miss RoJo down field several times as well.  This was a totally winnable game for USC and they just couldn’t get it done.

If Toby Gerhardt does not win the Heisman Trophy (and remember, I detest Stanford), it is a crime against humanity.  It should not even be close.  Alabama’s offense averaged about 16 points per game and Ingram rushed for 30 yards in their rival game (which they almost lost).  Colt McCoy is a special kid and I have nothing but respect for him, but he has not had a Heisman like season.  Toby’s numbers are Heisman-esque, and they do not even reflect what he has done for his team.  If he does not win, no one will say that a white running back didn’t get due consideration, right?  We would never …

Okay.  I am out of time and out of energy.  USC is off to the Emerald Bowl on December 26 to play Boston College.  It doesn’t feel right (to be playing a December bowl game).  But of course, playing in no bowl game at all in 1996, 1997, 1999, or 2000 did not feel right either (four out of five years).  We have come a long way.  I can not wait for next year.