Interim head coach Ed Orgeron just keeps adding fuel to the fire for why he should be hired, and why Pat Haden's midseason firing of Lane Kiffin was a brilliant decision: The Trojans are now one win shy of a 10-win season and are poised to play in a fairly decent bowl game.
The Trojans easily put away the Colorado Buffaloes 47-29, and improved to 9-3 on the season. Back in September, when USC got smacked by Arizona State, the Trojans didn't look like they could win six games, let alone nine. Of course, we all know what has attributed to this dramatic change of pace for USC: Orgeron, and the fun, wild and loose style of play that used to be a mainstay for this program.
To be sure, USC's hopes of backing into the Pac-12 Championship have been dashed. Arizona State held off the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night, securing the Sun Devils' place as the outright Pac-12 South Champion. The Trojans will move into second place in the Pac-12 South, but will only be playing for pride next week when they clash with their crosstown rivals.
Still, the fact that USC is ranked–and will likely move up a few places, thanks to their win and timely losses from teams like No. 4 Baylor and No. 5 Oregon–heading into its clash with UCLA is significant.
Ten weeks ago, USC just would have been lucky to make it out of the season alive. Now? They look ready to punch anyone in the mouth.
Orgeron has looked like a dream come true for USC in the wake of Kiffin's firing, and has really proved that hands-on coaching makes all the difference for the win-loss column. The players have rallied around Orgeron in ways they never did with Kiffin. They want to win for him, and it shows. But beyond the mental aspect of the game, there's the fact that some players have flat-out balled under Orgeron.
There's running back Javorious "Buck" Allen, who had 143 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado. It was his third game this season where he had at least three touchdowns, and through his past four games, he's found the end zone 10 times. Under Kiffin, we didn't even know who Allen was.
Cody Kessler has also flourished in the second half of the season. He's improved as a passer and has even showed that he can scramble and make time for his targets.
|Under Kiffin||Under Orgeron|
And there's also Soma Vainuku, who has been an absolute beast on special teams for USC this season: He has three blocked punts on the year, including one against Colorado on Saturday that resulted in three points for the Trojans. He also rushed 52 yards for a touchdown late in USC's win.
USC has wholly looked more composed, more talented, and more competitive under Orgeron.
Next week, USC and UCLA face off in what should be a prime-time thriller in the Coliseum. If the Trojans win, they will complete their second improbable 10-win season in three years, and Orgeron will be undefeated in Pac-12 play as the interim head coach.
Will USC beat UCLA next week?
And if that happens, USC fans and the media will be asking themselves: Is this really essentially the same team that went 7-6 last season?
What a difference a midseason firing makes.