It is rare that one can compare a college football team with one from the NBA. But this is Los Angeles, the imagination capital of the world, where fiction often becomes reality and vice versa.
To begin, both the USC Trojans and the Los Angeles Lakers have a storied tradition of winning championships in their respective sports and of sending players on to the NFL in the case of USC and into the NBA Hall of Fame in the case of the Lakers.
The fans of both teams perennially expect them to win their respective conferences and move on. However, over the past two seasons that has not happened for either team.
USC quite possibly could have played and won their conference championship last season had it not been for NCAA sanctions. The Lakers, on the other hand, broke down in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the second year in a row.
This season, it is an altogether different story for the Lakers and USC.
After a two-year NCAA ban on bowl appearances, the Trojans are finally bowl eligible and can compete for the Pac-12 Championship as well.
Their quarterback, Matt Barkley, a four-year starter, is the Heisman Trophy front runner. He has two potential All-American receivers in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to lead one of the most explosive offenses in college football.
The Trojans are also blessed with one of the best running-back tandems in the nation with Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd and four returning starters on the offensive line plus a pair of outstanding tight ends in Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble.
The Lakers, on the other hand, were left for dead after the second-round defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma Thunder. But, out of nowhere Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak engineered some Fourth of July fireworks of their own by acquiring Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a trade exception and future draft picks.
A month later, the Lakers landed prized center Dwight Howard in a rare four-team deal without having to trade All-Star forward Pau Gasol.
Now, as we approach the start of college football season and the NBA preseason, USC finds itself ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and No. 3 in the Coaches’ Poll while the Lakers are now favored to overtake the Thunder as Western Conference Champions and face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
So, which team has the most pressure to win their conference and play for a national championship, the Trojans or the Lakers?
Matt Barkley is in his fourth and final year at quarterback. He is the Heisman front runner. USC fans are expecting him to have a stellar year and lead the team to the BCS title. How much pressure do you think he feels?
Kobe Bryant has only two more seasons left on his contract and possibly in his NBA career. He needs one more championship to tie Michael Jordan with six and two more to surpass him.
Bryant normally plays very well under pressure, but could there be just too much pressure even for Bryant in 2012-13?
Steve Nash, like Bryant, only has a couple good years left in his career. He has never won a championship. According to head coach Mike Brown, Nash will quarterback the team and decide what plays to run as he brings up the ball. Nash has never faced this kind of pressure. How do you think he will do?
And then there are the coaches and their respective staffs.
The Trojans’ Lane Kiffin is under less pressure due to NCAA sanctions than the Lakers’ Mike Brown as far as his job for next season is concerned. But should USC have a mediocre year like they had in 2010, then Kiffin could land on the hot seat in 2013.
One only has to look at this year’s NHL Champions, the L.A. Kings, to see the kind of pressure Mike Brown is under.
The Kings started last season with high expectations, but when the offense sputtered, veteran coach Terry Murray lost his job. Daryl Sutter replaced Murray in mid-season and the rest is history.
That is the kind of pressure Mike Brown will be under with the Lakers this year, especially with Dwight Howard becoming a free agent next summer. The Lakers must be in the thick of the NBA hunt all the way through the playoffs to entice Howard to re-sign with the team. Brown is expendable; Howard isn’t.
At the start of their respective seasons, the Lakers and the Trojans find themselves under tremendous pressure to succeed. I need not remind you what the pressure of high expectations can do to a team. You need not look any further than Anaheim, the home of the Los Angeles Angels.
So, what are your thoughts? Which team, the Lakers or the Trojans, will find themselves under more pressure? Which team will fare better and bear up under the pressure? Which team will fold? Or can both teams rise above all the pressure, all the hype and live up to those lofty expectations?