USC Football: Grading the Trojans' 2013 Season
Now that USC has finished this season with a thud, is it too early to look back at the up-and-down roller coaster that was 2013?
Of course not.
In a year that saw a historic low resulting in the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin and then an exhilarating high when his interim replacement Ed Orgeron almost brought the Trojans to the pinnacle of what was left for them, USC experienced it all in 2013.
Now the Trojans will have an opportunity to play in a postseason bowl and consider what might have been.
This slideshow will look at USC's season and grade the units that got them to the 9-4 season they wound up with.
Some units underachieved, while others did well.
Here is an assessment of them all.
Overall, the offense was USC's weakest link, as the Trojans could only muster the 79th-ranked total offense in 2013.
Much of the reason for this mediocrity was an uneven performance by first-year starting quarterback Cody Kessler, who directed a passing game that wound up 77th in that department.
Of course, statistics are often misleading, as Kessler was protected by an abysmal offensive line that only found its bearings late into the season.
Also contributing to the general ineptitude of this unit was a banged-up receiving corps that found preseason All-American Marqise Lee injured for most of the campaign and a talented tight end group that had to help with blocking when they too weren't battling their own set of injuries.
One bright spot however, was the running game, which saw Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis being very effective early on before succumbing to injuries.
However, the best player on the offense had to be Javorius (Buck) Allen, who was buried on the bench before Ed Orgeron gave him an opportunity.
Allen responded in a big way, gaining 731 yards (6.5-per-carry average) to go along with 12 touchdowns despite only seeing extensive action over the past six games.
With the exception of the Arizona State and UCLA games, the defense was probably the most effective unit for the Trojans in 2013.
Overall, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's charges were responsible for the 16th-stingiest defense, and this was achieved after having to learn a whole new scheme after scrapping the 4-3 for a 3-4, which took on a 5-2 alignment.
The Trojans hung their defensive hat on a strong front seven, which helps explain why USC found itself with the 20th-ranked rush defense after being in the top 15 for much of the season.
Surprisingly, USC's pass defense—considered to be by far its worst unit—actually was pretty steady and finished a very respectable 32nd in passing yards allowed.
With the exception of a very inconsistent Andre Heidari, who missed far too many field goals in 2013, the special teams unit was...well...pretty special this year.
This is especially true of the field goal and punt-blocking units led by Soma Vainuku, who was an absolute terror when it came to getting his big paws on opponents' kicking efforts.
Meanwhile, the return game was a tale of two very different stories, as punt returner Nelson Agholor helped USC wind up ninth in the nation in that department, which helped offset the Trojans finishing an abysmal 121st in kickoff returns.
Finally, first-year punter Kris Albarado had a nice year—with the exception of the UCLA game, of course—as many of his punts found their way inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
This slideshow will focus on the two head coaches, although it should be recognized that the staff did a very good job overall in 2013.
This is especially true of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who revamped the Trojans defense after installing a brand-new scheme.
Also, a tip of the cap goes to special teams coach John Baxter, running backs coach Tommie Robinson and linebackers coach Mike Ekeler.
Now on to the head coaches:
Whatever I might say about Kiffin has already been offered ad nauseum, so I won't pile on.
Suffice it to say Kiffin did not do a very good job in 2013, and it cost him his job, which is a far worse fate than any slings and arrows I could shoot his way.
For seven games, Ed Orgeron was on a magic run as the interim head coach replacing Kiffin.
With cries of "hire Coach O permanently" ringing in his ears, athletic director Pat Haden seemed to have a very tough decision on his hands going forward.
And why not? Orgeron rescued a moribund Trojan program and brought the excitement back to USC football.
Then came the UCLA debacle, and now it's anyone's guess as to whether or not Orgeron will get the nod for the full-time gig.
In reality, going 6-2 with this team under these circumstances is commendable to be sure.
Losing to both UCLA and Notre Dame?
Not so much.
Look, 9-4 is a record that many teams would give their right arm for.
In fact, this was the record I predicted for the Trojans when the season started.
What I did not predict and what I cannot forgive is USC getting swept for the second year in a row by their main rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame.
Given the significant problems USC faced this year—including changing head coaches and an inordinate amount of injuries to a sanctions-depleted roster—I guess Trojan fans should be OK with the way the year played out.
Still, there were many missed opportunities, and somehow, 9-4 just doesn't seem too satisfying, especially given the face-plant the Trojans offered Saturday against the Bruins.
Hopefully, USC can finish with a strong bowl effort and build some momentum for next year when USC's new permanent head coach takes the reigns.
Whomever that winds up being.