The 2012 USC Trojans are an easy target. Considering they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, the perception is that the team seemingly crumbled under the weight of huge expectations.
But that's simply not the case.
Upon further examination—setting aside embedded anti-Lane Kiffin biases and inherent Southern Cal distaste—the Trojans had a somewhat respectable year. Let's face it: USC didn't belong as the top-ranked team in the country to begin with.
SportsCenter's Twitter team brought up a piercing fact about the Trojans' season that does hold at least some water based on its lofty initial ranking:
#DidYouKnow: USC's 5 losses are the most for a preseason AP No. 1 college football team since Ole Miss in 1964.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 25, 2012
Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but all of the Trojans' losses came to a slew of top-tier teams.
On the road against Stanford, QB Matt Barkley was pressured all night long, and the same Cardinal defense that would hold recent No. 2 Oregon and its high-powered offense to 14 points in an overtime victory held USC to that number in regulation.
After that setback, Southern Cal rattled off four consecutive wins in convincing fashion. Then a trip to Arizona loomed, where Rich Rodriguez has implemented one of the nation's premier spread-option attacks that ranks seventh in the country in total offense (h/t NCAA.com).
The Monte Kiffin-coached defense had no answers for the Wildcats, who were in the Top 25 at various points throughout the year. The Trojans only lost by three points away from home, 39-36.
Couple those with two losses to current AP No. 5 Oregon and national No. 1 Notre Dame (h/t ESPN), and it doesn't look like such a bad track record for the Trojans.
Even the loss to UCLA is nothing to be ashamed of. The Bruins are rapidly rising under Jim L. Mora, and stopping their extremely balanced offense led by breakout freshman QB Brett Hundley and star running back Johnathan Franklin is much easier said than done.
Whether it's the NCAA sanctions and rules violations that have saddled the school for the past four years or whatever the case may be, USC has gotten a bad rap in the national spotlight as of late. Granted, this isn't the program we were accustomed to seeing that dominated so convincingly during the first decade of the 2000s. But it's not the substantial slouch that people currently perceive it as, either.
Lane Kiffin has shouldered a lot of the blame as the head coach, because he is rather brash and outspoken, never afraid to lob a controversial soundbite that makes for fine media fodder. That shouldn't diminish the perception of the product Kiffin helps recruit and put on the field, but it does.
It's time to stop pretending that the Trojans were a catastrophic failure and cease feeding the anti-Kiffin narrative.
This is the first time he has had a chance to be at the helm of a program, and it's his dream job. This was the maiden year the Trojans were eligible for the postseason under his watch, which also had to contribute to Southern Cal's inflated preseason stock.
There's no doubt Kiffin is still acquiring top-tier talent together to build a successful program for the future.
An unforeseen difficult schedule cost the Trojans dearly, as did a defense that was porous and inconsistent at times. Don't forget the man who could do no wrong under center in Barkley, who was also part of the equation down the stretch, throwing nine interceptions in his final four starts.
To scrap everything and start over would be the worst thing USC could do—because this season was not the debacle it's been made out to be.