Considering the USC Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the nation in the preseason rankings, the 2012 season can't be viewed as anything more than a disappointment. But that doesn't mean head coach Lane Kiffin should take the fall for the team's misfortunes.
As it stands, despite the 7-4 record, Kiffin's job status is safe for next year, according to athletic director Pat Haden (h/t ESPN Los Angeles). But capping off the year with a loss to the new top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a bowl game disappointment may change that sentiment.
Bryan Armen Graham of SI put into perspective just how perceptibly massive the failure in Southern California football has been:
Lane Kiffin was a freshman at Bloomington Jefferson High School the last time college football's preseason No. 1 lost four games.— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) November 18, 2012
But let's be fair and defend the oft-criticized Kiffin for once, as hard as that may be for some to process.
This is the first season that the Trojans have been postseason eligible under Kiffin, and the expectation was a BCS bowl. The team has fallen woefully short of those aspirations, but pointing the finger at Kiffin is irresponsible.
Keep in mind that this is the first time Kiffin has held the reins of a college football program for more than one year. His very brief stint at Tennessee in 2009 was abandoned when he was offered his self-described dream job at USC.
Since arriving, Kiffin has had to deal with NCAA sanctions that did not happen when he was the man in charge. As much flack as he gets for being outspoken and perhaps brash and arrogant at times, he has keyed the continued development of highly touted QB Matt Barkley.
Kiffin also called the plays extremely successfully for two years when he was on Pete Carroll's staff, and serves as the team's offensive coordinator right now.
If there is any blame to be placed on the Trojans team, it can't be on the offense. The head coach has continually dialed up big plays and utilized his outstanding plethora of skills players—wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, most notably—to put up 36 points per contest. Penn State transfer Silas Redd and fellow RB Curtis McNeal have given the offense exceptional balance.
It's the defense that has truly troubled the Trojans. Lane's father, Monte, leads that unit. Monte has had immense success in the NFL but hasn't been able to get through to this year's bunch despite the typical talent Southern Cal attracts.
Lost in all the hoopla that Lane Kiffin tends to attract in the media is the fact that he actually knows the game of football very well. He has done a stellar job bringing top-tier players to the USC program even in its recent bleak times.
This is the first time Kiffin has gotten a real shot at building his own program—and it's coming at the helm of the place he has always dreamed about.
It may be hard for a fan base used to dominating the rest of the country in recent memory to swallow such a mediocre campaign, but Kiffin is building a strong team at USC. Like him or not, Kiffin deserves of at least seeing it through to the end of his contract—and the Trojan faithful should be excited to see where he can take their historic school.