USC vs. Arizona: Stumbles Are All Too Predictable for Trojans, Lane Kiffin

Matt BoczarContributor IIIOctober 27, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin looks on against the Colorado Buffaloes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

This isn’t exactly what Matt Barkley had in mind when he announced that he was returning for his senior season with the USC Trojans.

The Trojans fell to 6-2 on the season (4-2 against the Pac-12) after losing to the Arizona Wildcats by a score of 39-36.  This comes just one week after the Trojans beat Colorado by a score of 50-6.  The loss not only takes USC out of the national title picture, but also prevents the team from winning the 800th game in school history.

And with Oregon on tap for a matchup at the Coliseum next Saturday, that 800th victory may have to wait another week.

After beginning the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, USC was in line for a chance at the BCS National Championship Game this season, the first time that the team has been eligible for a bowl game since Lane Kiffin took over prior to the start of the 2010 season.

Unfortunately, this year has seen a trend that has become all too common for the Trojans with Kiffin at the helm.

In his first season as head coach at USC in 2010, Kiffin saw the Trojans stumble in just their fifth game of the season, and one that they entered into undefeated, to Washington.  The Huskies came into the game with a record of 1-2 and had been outscored 56-21 just two weeks prior.  Washington would go on to lose four of their next five games but still managed to end the Trojans’ undefeated season.

The Trojans would go on to lose three of their four remaining games against ranked opponents that season.

Last season once again saw the Trojans stumble against an unranked team, this time to an Arizona State team that had fallen the week before to Illinois, and who would go on to lose six of their last seven games.

Although ineligible to play in a bowl game, the Trojans still had a chance to make a statement heading into this season, before the team lost a heartbreaking three-overtime game to Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal.

This season, Kiffin and his Trojans have once against stumbled in winnable games.  The team’s 21-14 loss to Stanford may have been overcome, especially with Oregon and Notre Dame still on the schedule.  However, Saturday’s loss to Arizona has continued a trend in recent seasons that has seen the Trojans lose often times to lesser opponents.

Kiffin has racked up 24 wins in a little over two and a half seasons on the field as the head coach at USC.  However, he’s also made noise off the field that has gotten him attention.  Winning a BCS championship with a Heisman candidate at quarterback and a preseason No. 1-ranked team could have silenced some critics who question his antics, such as recently having players switch jersey numbers, and voting the Trojans No. 1 in the preseason poll after saying that he wouldn’t.

For one, the Trojans have continued to stumble on the road since Kiffin took over the reins.  Out of the team’s nine losses under Kiffin, five have come on the road.  In comparison, Stanford and Oregon have combined to lose just two total road games in the past three years, both of which have been by the Cardinal this season.

Whether today’s game turned out to be a trap game with Oregon waiting next week or not, it still marks the fifth time that Kiffin and his Trojans have lost on the road in the past two and a half years, and often to lesser-ranked opponents.

Is Kiffin being overmatched in these games?  Is he having trouble getting his team to focus on the current week’s opponent and not look ahead to a bigger matchup? 

Since taking over as head coach, Kiffin has managed to have USC obtain a higher ranking in the AP poll each season, ranking as high as 14th in 2010, fifth in 2011 and No. 1 this season. 

Unfortunately, in two of these seasons, the team’s highest ranking was also their preseason ranking.

The team’s final rankings haven’t quite matched former head coach Pete Carroll’s mark of being ranked in the top five of the season’s final poll seven times in eight years.

Kiffin still has a chance to turn USC back into the perennial national title contender that Carroll had the school as, but this season has become a missed opportunity with a highly ranked squad and future NFL quarterback leading the way.

T.J. Simers’ article for the Los Angeles Times contains a quote from Pat Haden that may sum up Kiffin’s tenure as the Trojans’ head coach up to this point:

He’s definitely a work in progress. It can be challenging, but I think we’re making progress with Lane. And I agree with you; I think he has a big future in front of him and a long runway.

With the team’s stumbles under his guidance, Kiffin’s runway certainly hasn’t been shortened this season.