USC head coach Lane Kiffin was probably looking forward to this season more than either of his previous two seasons at USC.
His Trojans were now eligible for a bowl, his team was ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll and he had three high-profile players who were receiving a lot of early Heisman hype.
USC is now clinging to a hopeful Pac-12 Championship game berth instead of a BCS Championship game berth, the Trojans are ranked No. 18 in the BCS standings and receiver Marqise Lee is the only consensus Heisman candidate—quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods are out.
On to Plan B. Minimize distractions.
Kiffin stormed off in the middle of a media scrum, a reporter was banned from attending any USC football practices but ultimately reinstated, a jersey-switching incident against Colorado was borderline unethical and a student manager was dismissed after officials discovered he had deflated the team's footballs prior to kickoff against Oregon.
Before every Trojan fan disembarks from the Lane Kiffin bandwagon—if they haven't already—please welcome aboard about 89 million new fans who represent the combined populations of the 14 SEC teams' state populations.
Lane Kiffin is their new favorite coach. It's all on him to beat UCLA, beat Notre Dame and put No. 4 Alabama back in the BCS Championship game. Beat UCLA and the Trojans have another shot to knock out No. 2 Oregon. Beat Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish will drop out of the No. 3 spot.
No. 4 Alabama will climb to No. 2, get invited to the Big Dance and world order will have been restored.
The SEC loves it some Kiffin right now.
And so should football fans wearing cardinal and gold, because there are some things to like about Kiffin. Yes, despite those petty incidents that keep popping up in the program, he still has that likability factor.
Kiffin is a helluva recruiter. In his first two years as head coach at USC, Kiffin landed two Top 5 Scout.com recruiting classes. Kiffin also managed to sign a Top 20 class last year despite severe scholarship restrictions: USC may only sign 15 scholarshipped players per year until 2016. Still, Kiffin's recruiting class of 2013 is currently ranked No. 3 by scout.com.
Kiffin also won some high-profile games in a year in which the team had nothing to play for. Last year USC was serving out its second year of a bowl ban from the NCAA, yet the Trojans beat No. 4 Oregon 38-35 at Autzen Stadium—the Ducks were favored by over two touchdowns.
Kiffin also took his team to South Bend and soundly beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31-17. Even in a "down" year, Kiffin managed to keep his players focused on USC's biggest rivalry games.
Not all coaches facing impending NCAA doom or living through NCAA doom have had successes. Miami head coach Al Golden's team is currently 5-5 and the NCAA still hasn't decided what sanctions, if any, should be handed out after the Nevin Shapiro scandal was investigated.
Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Bill O'Brien (Penn State) and Larry Fedora (North Carolina) have all done anywhere from an admirable to spectacular job while coaching teams serving out bowl bans.
Not only has Kiffin kept the program from becoming a dumpster fire, he's also shown statistical improvement.
Kiffin has been criticized for having an undisciplined team via penalties incurred during this season; up until USC's game against Arizona State, the Trojans were the most-penalized FBS team in the country.
But USC can now defer that lowly achievement to its cross town rival, UCLA, which now has more penalties and more penalty yardage than 123 other FBS teams.
This week USC's rankings in penalties improved from No. 124 to No. 117, and that's something to celebrate.
So is the SEC's glowing adoration and endorsement—albeit only a three-week temporary truce—of Lane Kiffin.