USC's 10-7 loss to Washington State Saturday is indicative of more than immediate problems vexing the Trojans.
Teams across the Pac-12 South showed signs of progress through the season's first two weeks. Because of NCAA sanctions, offensive instability and injuries, USC is trending in the opposite direction of its Pac-12 South counterparts.
Arizona State's veteran squad was nearly flawless in its season-opening rout of Sacramento State, and its defense showed marked improvement.
UCLA dominated Nevada in Week 1 behind a prolific rushing attack, despite having lost Johnathan Franklin to the NFL draft after last season. Travis Wilson displayed a skill set Utah has lacked at quarterback in recent years in the Utes' 2-0 start.
Even Colorado built its first two-game winning streak in 34 months.
And then there's USC.
The Trojans suffered the first and only loss of any of the division's six teams. They are 1-4 in their last five conference games, dating back to Oct. 27 of last year. Opponents no longer fear The Coliseum the way they once did, as Washington State proved Saturday.
The Cougars gave away three turnovers, rushed for seven total yards and yet, when placekicker Andrew Furney lined up for the would-be game-winning field goal attempt, Washington State seemed to exude supreme confidence.
It proved warranted, as USC had no equalizer.
Carrying the South's sole blemish hardly means the Trojans are the division's worst team. USC is a talent-rich team, particularly on the defensive side. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast's unit flexed its muscles against the hurry-up, air-raid attack of Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
The Cougars gained just 222 yards, and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday found himself under constant duress from a tenacious Trojan pass rush.
USC boasts talent, but the problem exposed through two weeks of play is that, while other teams in the Pac-12 South are progressing, USC is regressing.
Offensive woes are the obvious and easily cited root for the Trojans' backslide. Indeed, 193 yards of total offense Saturday supports this argument.
Neither Cody Kessler nor Max Wittek has done anything to inspire a definitive starting quarterback nod from head coach Lane Kiffin.
The two Trojan quarterbacks, who continued to battle for No. 1 positioning, have combined for one passing touchdown. A few notables around the Pac-12 South to surpass that mark:
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson had two touchdown passes of over 50 yards in the first half against Weber State.
Arizona cornerback Tra'Mayne Bondurant has two interception returns for touchdowns in two games.
Reserve running backs Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones combined for two UCLA rushing touchdowns against Nevada.
Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson has three receiving touchdowns of 30-plus yards in two games.
As the play-caller, Kiffin earns derision for the Trojans' struggles. But USC is faced with a problem transcending in-game Xs and Os.
The mounting implications of NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions thinned USC to a point that has rendered the Trojan roster only slightly larger than that of a Championship Subdivision program.
While Kiffin has recruited well in his four classes, he is also faced with an impossibly narrow margin for error. It is taking its toll on the once-mighty Trojans, who are faced with rebuilding—and other programs in the Pac-12 South have a head-start on the process.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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