The 2012 USC football team was one comprised of giants that absolutely crumbled under the weight of lofty expectations. When push came to shove, mounting pressures and deflated egos crushed the team. This cost USC not only a trip to the title game that they were slated to play in, but also a highly coveted recruiting class. After the dust settled, the Trojans were reeling, their recruiting class in shambles and their coach on the hot seat.
When USC was in tight, win-or-go-home situations in 2012, more often than not they opted for the latter. It was as if they saw an uphill battle, and as a team, waved the white flag. Eventually, their confidence as a group plummeted. That's why against Arizona, despite the fact that wide receiver Marqise Lee single-handedly put the team on his back—he shredded the Wildcats for over 300 yards—the Trojans lost in baffling fashion. Arizona was not an isolated incident (I’m looking at you, UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech), though it was the most glaring example of a team that had lost its will to win once it stopped being easy.
Now, less than two weeks away from USC's season opener at Hawaii on Aug. 29, the Trojans are fostering a new mentality that could make a difference for them as the season wears on. It seems simple, but a "Team First, Ego Second" mantra is one the Trojans need, and one that surprisingly was not present in their 2012 campaign.
Having consumed a large helping of humble pie, the Trojans are ready to play together as a team, not as an assembly of stars.
"We really haven't missed a beat," redshirt senior offensive lineman Kevin Graf said of the development his unit has experienced under new coach Mike Summers. "We really work together well which is the biggest thing that needs to happen.”
That sentiment begins in the trenches and ripples throughout the entire team.
Despite the fact that USC has yet to name a starting quarterback between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, there have been little in the way of distractions that plagued the team last season.
“We have such a great team dynamic but compared to last year we had so many individual, just highly-ranked guys,” Wittek tells Evan Budrovich of Reign of Troy. “This year, there is no drop off in talent, but we have so much more of a togetherness as a team.”
The togetherness that Wittek speaks of could be the difference between USC posting a 10-win season and having another disaster.
Though their quarterback will be green, USC returns experienced starters at all other skill positions, and the new-look 5-2 defensive scheme that Clancy Pendergast has installed is generating lots of buzz in LA for its ferocity. They have an extremely favorable schedule, with Stanford and UCLA coming to the Coliseum while also avoiding Oregon. The road is paved for a comeback season in Troy, though that can only happen if the team remains true to itself.
“A lot of the stuff you don’t see off the field, the great player accountability we have,” Wittek said of another difference between this season and last. “We have a good dynamic and it will be awesome this year to see how it all plays out.”
With big names like Marqise Lee, Silas Redd, Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard lining either side of the line of scrimmage, the Trojans have a lot to look forward to talent-wise in 2013. They have a newly bolstered running back corps with a bevy of talent, a defensive line that can hang with the best of them and a wide receiving corps that is going to give opposing secondaries fits. But USC learned in 2012 that talent without heart or will is the difference between playing the postseason in Miami and playing it in El Paso.
If USC can stay grounded in putting the team first and checking egos at the door, the 2013 USC Trojans have the potential to surprise many who have counted them out this year.
It all begins next Thursday, when the Trojans travel to Hawaii for their season opener Aug. 29.