USC 2013 – Musings before the Battle Begins

As I type we are 24 hours away from kick off of the 2013 USC football season. Every year is highly anticipated for those of us who breathe all that is Troy, but this year carries more anticipation than most due to the simply inexplicable end to last year’s season. I began thinking about this game thirty seconds after the debacle in El Paso ended. That is just how it is for those of us who love Troy.

One thing I didn’t do is spend the entire eight month period blasting venom at Lane Kiffin. I didn’t post 23,156 times on various internet chat boards visited only by other people with venom in their hearts and mush in their brains how much I hate CLK. I didn’t sit around waiting for him to screw up. I didn’t pray for his death or destruction. I followed the recruiting class closely and was very excited for the quality of what he brought in, even with some disappointing drop-offs in the final days. I attended a handful of events he hosted and watched first hand at much of what he is looking to do differently in 2013. And I waited. I waited. And waited. And waited. Now the season is here.

I detect a big difference between those of us who have been a part of the USC family for a long time, and rooted for them with everything in our being during the Hackett era, for example, and those who currently spend their 20’s and 30’s typing away on internet chat boards. If USC loses five games in a row, I would be pulling for my Trojans in the next game as if we were 5-0. Every real Trojan I know would. I do not expect to win every game this year, though I want to. But the reason I am done reading any other traffic on the various USC boards (besides what is written by the editors, moderators, and real contributors) is because the act of marinating our opinions in destructive negativity, even when our opinions carry SOME kernels of truth to them, is, well, juvenille. It also is unhealthy and I don’t have the time for it. It will save me iPad reading time this season, I assure you.

But just as much as I find the general disposition of the CLK haters on the chat boards to be idiotic, I would be dishonest to say that I believe CLK is going to make it long term. I want him to. I want to be wrong. I have been pulling for him. I like him personally, a lot. But there is no way an objective person could look at last year only and say that they have a high degree of confidence in his head coaching. I agree that this was also the position McKay was in after a couple seasons into his stint at USC (and he was not dealing with preposterous sanctions), but CLK has not done anything to make us think he will be a McKay who goes from the hated to the adored.

Now, I certainly hope he does. There are few things I would love more than to see the CLK haters eat their own you-know-what just as these same pathetic haters did with Pete Carroll. I would love for the LA press to eat crow. I would love for a nation that has put a bulls-eye on this guy to reverse course. But for that to happen, CLK will need to keep his job this year, and for that to happen we will need a minimum of 10 wins, in my opinion. It will not be as easy as people think.

The issues last year were, as I see it, an over-rated team that was not as naturally good as many said they were (and many still say; one of the most laughable thinks the Kiffin haters say is that we had “the most talent in the country”; nonsense). But after the Stanford loss, the team did not unite as needed, and we never got the offense into gear the way we needed. Kiff owns this. for Barkley and Lee/Woods to shine we were going to have to establish a running game, and he was never able to do that. The Arizona game exposed the defense that looked more like the D of the prior year, and got worse through the last game. Barkley had a very tough second half of the season. With a QB who had never played at USC we brought the highly overrated Notre Dame who went to the national championship game into the Coliseum, and had the chance to redeem the season. In this game CLK committed the worst play-calling and clock-management faux pas of his career, and a gorgeous opportunity slipped through our fingers. Then, the debacle in El Paso, and at that point all hell had broken loose.

We did not have a running game last year, Barkley had a tough season, Woods was injured, and CLK seemed to have tunnel-vision as it pertained to the threat that is Marqise Lee. We did not utilize the tight ends. We insisted on staying in defensive formations that did not suit the team personnel. We were brutally undisciplined, and those discipline issues as manifested in penalties and turnovers got WORSE, not better, as the season went on. I said like a broken record in 2001 as USC went 6-6 with Pete Carroll that we had gone from worst in the Pac-10 in both penalties and turnovers, to best. That trajectory said to me that things were turning the right way. Then came the greatest dynasty in the history of college football. With CLK, I have not seen the team develop the discipline necessary to excel. I pray that will change this season.

The off-field things are another story too. From the air in the balls to throwing that douchebag, Scott Wolf, out of practice, to leaving a presser prematurely, CLK was beat to pieces in the press. The bulk of it was nonsense. But things like the uniform switcheroo trick against a Colorado team that me and my three kids could beat was just silly. It did not reflect USC. It did not reflect gravitas and maturity. CLK does not deserve much of the criticism he receives, but he has to understand the reality of the bullseye on his back. He has to step up, and keep himself out of these messes. I pray that will change this season.

So do I expect him to be a multi-season winner at USC? If asked to bet on it, I would say no. Do I hope he will be, starting with THIS year? Absolutely. No question about it. I hope CLK is our coach for years and years to come, because if he is, it will mean we are winning.

I believe a lot of the same things about the team this year that you all do. I don’t know what to expect for our offensive line, which is older and bigger this year, but under-performed badly last year. I think we have a much better defensive coach this year than we have had in since CLK arrived. I believe the new formation is going to be a big improvement, and if our freshman can play at a high level – particularly in the secondary – I think the D can be good. Health will be important too. But offensively, with uncertainty on the line, and no clarity in the QB position, we simply do not know what to expect. I look forward to teams trying to lock down Lee because I believe Nelson Agholar is going to go nuts this season. I just have to think that CLK is going to use the tight ends more this season, and both Grimble and Telfer are flat-out playmakers. The QB controversy is what it is. I have not seen Cody play, and neither have any of you unless you had season tickets to a high school in Bakersfield four years ago. I understand that he does not throw INT’s, and that intrigues me. But Max has good football DNA too, despite a mind-numbing bad outing against Georgia Tech. The bottom line is that I don’t care if he uses two men against Hawaii, and I look forward to having a starting QB, and having a really good back-up. If he tries to rotate two guys persistently, I will not be supportive.

The schedule is to our favor this year. We had absolutely better win our first six games or it will be a long season. The tough games are obviously Notre Dame on the road and Stanford at home. I would not put Oregon State on the road in the gimme category either. Basically, I think we could go 12-1, and I think we could go 8-5. The two Arizona schools are examples of games we just can not lose, but could.

Not knowing that we will beat every single team is part of reality. It is the way it normally is. One day the surreal shield of fantasy that Pete Carroll brought to us for that glorious dynasty will no longer serve as the barometer (note: the haters even bitched about Pete when we owned the college football universe, complaining that we didn’t beat Idaho by enough, etc.). Silly stuff. I want to go undefeated as much as anyone. I hate losing. I love USC. And all of it makes me appreciate 2002-2008 that much more. That period will never be repeated.

I join my Trojan family in welcoming the new season in. I can not wait for kick-off tomorrow. This year is all about good vibrations. I suspect there will be some wonderful times and some painful times. C’est la vie. But what I am most excited about is the thrill that is supporting my beloved Trojans. In the heart of courage is the spirit that is Troy. Fight on. Beat the Rainbows.