Without Worthy Rivals, Is USC Its Own Worst Enemy?
My parents' first date was at a USC football game against hated rivals Notre Dame in 1972. You might've heard about it. The game, not the date, by the way...
Sophomore Tailback Anthony Davis scored a record six touchdowns and the Trojans beat the Fighting Irish 45-23 at the LA Coliseum.
Two years later, Notre Dame went into the half up 24-0 and apparently there were plenty of people vacating their seats at the intermission. Anthony Davis again hoisted the Trojans onto his back and ran the game into the history books, as the Trojans scored 55 second-half points, giving USC an historic 55-24 win.
Those certainly weren't the last great games between Notre Dame and USC, nor were they the first. But there haven't been any good games between the two for years, except for the 2005 "Bush Push" game in South Bend.
The same holds true for USC's crosstown rivals, which, except for a lone 13-9 win in 2006 that derailed the Trojans from National Championship hopes, the USC/UCLA rivalry has been dull at its brightest moments.
The Trojans are 9-1 against their light blue rivals since 1999, losing just that one time in 2006 in Pasadena. Against the Irish (who of late, have not been so "fighting"), USC has won the last seven games, and 10 of the last 13 dating back to 1996.
So without these two season defining rivalries to bank on each year, who is USC's main rivalry? Let's take a look at those that could lay claim to the title, one by one.
A three-OT loss to the Bears in 2003 kept the Trojans out of the BCS title game, and set up the first of a handful of similar controversies. The following year in LA, USC's D needed a goal-line stop on fourth down against Aaron Rodgers and the Cal Bears for a nail-biter of a win.
Every year Coach Tedford and his players bring their best against USC, and they've given the Trojans a bunch of great games.
Last year Freshman RB Jacquizz Rogers (hmmm, maybe there's something to the last name...) handed an early-season loss that USC never recovered from in the polls. OSU dominated the early portion of the game, and while USC made it a close game, they gave up six fourth quarter points sealing their 20-26 fate.
Two years earlier, in their last visit to Reser Stadium, USC came up short with a 31-33 loss to the Beavers when they couldn't convert on a two-point conversion they had to attempt for a tie. USC actually did recover in the polls in 2006, but their loss to unranked UCLA again dropped them from the BCS title game contention.
In 2004, again two years prior, the Trojans battled through fog and a 13-0 early deficit to win 28-20. The Beavers don't ever seem fazed by the pomp and circumstance surrounding the USC Trojans.
In the 2004 season that saw the Trojans go undefeated on their way to the BCS title game, where they dismantled the Oklahoma Sooners 55-19, before the Trojans survived the Bears, they nearly were taken down by the Stanford Cardinal.
And then, of course, everyone remembers what some consider the greatest upset in college football in the last 10 years, the Trojans lost their six season-long home winning streak in a horrific loss to Stanford in LA.
Even when Stanford is having a poor season (which seems to be often, of late), they seem to always find a way to play out of their shoes against USC.
I think that you can make a strong case that USC is the team that prevents USC from making it to the BCS title game year in and year out.
While they did reach the big game back-to-back in 2004 and 2005, they have lost games that they shouldn't have in three other seasons that took away their chances for standing up as one of the greatest college football dynasties in history.
In 2003 it was a triple-overtime loss to the Cal Bears. In 2006 it was losses to both Oregon State and UCLA, neither of which should've even been close games. And last year, it was an undersized running back who ran the Trojans out of a much-desired matchup against Florida in the BCS title game.
I grew up running down the tunnels of the LA Coliseum, and watched so many of the great games, in-person at the Coliseum and at the Rose Bowl, and on TV in October when the USC / ND rivalry took place in South Bend, IN.
I was in the stands when Rodney Peete and Erik Affholter connected for the 33-yard touchdown that upset the Aikman-led Bruins, 17-13. I lived through the 11-straight losses to the Irish from 1983-1993, and the eight-straight defeats at the hands of the UCLA Bruins from 1991-1998.
However, these are just different times. Even during those long strings of losses for the Trojans, there were tons of great games. There were No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups, double-overtime games, etc. Even being dominated for so many years, the Trojans were usually formidable opponents.
Lately, UCLA and Notre Dame feel like automatic wins. There's less hype. Each year the crowds seem less and less amped up to take on their rivals, because the air has been let out of the balloon by consistent and thorough whoopings.
Hopefully Rick Neuheisel will ignite things from his end in Westwood, and with any luck Charlie Weis will get the boot soon, as well. Maybe the Irish will figure out a way to hire in a coach that can restore the program to their previous glory. We can all hope.
Personally, I want to give my kids an honest reason why they should detest both UCLA and Notre Dame. Because right now, they're both behaving like domesticated lapdogs, and we'd all like our two rottweilers back.
Until then, it appears that the Trojans' own worst enemy is probably Oregon State, and themselves as a close second. What do you think?
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