All good things must come to an end, right? The USC Trojans have been the darlings of College Football since the 2002 season, when Carson Palmer and company foreshadowed things to come by blowing out a Big Ten foe (sound familiar) Iowa, in the Orange Bowl.
Ever since then, they have won, re-loaded more efficiently than a disgruntled Postal Worker, and kept right on "Fightin' On." The first few years of this magical ride, the poll voters would drop their preseason ranking initially the year after losing a lot of personnel, only to have the mighty Trojans storm back to the top with their talent and ability.
Now, everyone has learned that no matter how many first rounders are lost, there are plenty waiting with swords drawn to enter the battle. Automatically, you can stamp them in the top five because—well, that's where they have been for almost the past decade, and as history has shown, it has become a no-brainer to keep them there.
Fast-forward to this year, and on the surface things look much the same. The majority of a defense of almost historical proportions has graduated or left early for NFL riches. Though the offense has many key components back, the team must break in a new and unproven quarterback.
The team also lost the starting punter and kicker to graduation. There are wholesale changes to be sure, but it doesn't feel much different in the City of Angels. Surely Pete Carroll will pull the right strings, put another sword in the ground, and lay claim to the College Football landscape again.
Let's pause for a moment and digest our surroundings. Could this be the year that a dynasty comes back to Earth? It may sound foolish, given the success of the program under the loosey-goosey Carroll, but every team in any sport that has been the Cadillac of its class has inevitably needed a tune up.
Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas, Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami. All of these teams among others have had their moment in the limelight, and all can tell you (enter stage left Rich Rodriquez) that they could also point to that season when a transition from greatness to "good" took place.
Sometimes, it's the loss of key personnel. Other times, it could be a coach moving on, or a recruiting class that doesn't ever live up to its billing. No matter the case, at some point, USC is going to join the rest of its peers again. I submit to you that this could be the year.
I'm not putting a stamp of a guarantee on the fact that USC will not be the same machine that it has been recently. There are many things, though, that people seem to be taking for granted coming into this season, and some notable differences than in years past.
No matter how you slice it, there's going to be a new quarterback at the helm, and more than likely a youngster in either the sophomore Corp or true freshman Barkley. Each year the Trojans have broken in a new quarterback during this run, it has at least been someone who has been around, and would be considered at least somewhat seasoned.
The progression went from Palmer (Senior) to Leinart (Junior) to Booty (Junior) to Sanchez (Junior). They have all had a chance to get acclimated to the offensive system. This doesn't look to be the case this year.
There are mass losses on the defense. You have to believe that the speed and talent will still be there, but no matter what program you are, you cannot expect to not have a down year somewhere with personnel turnover like this. Never before has Carroll had to replace so many starters on defense, and it may just be too much this time around.
Don't discount the fact that the special teams unit has to break in two new faces for its punting and field goal duties. Every year, teams need to win a couple of close games that could go either way. This is usually done with a clutch field goal, or the field position gained in the punting game. What will happen this year when USC needs a big play in the kicking game? They might be alright, but they may not be as well. Time will tell.
Lastly, USC arguably has its toughest regular season schedule since its return to glory. The Trojans must travel across the country in an early tilt of titans. Though USC put a pounding on Ohio State at home last year, I would not expect the same type of steamroll to happen this year.
For one, the game is being played in Columbus, where Ohio State will fair much better. USC's defense will still be learning, but most importantly, "The" Ohio State University has a player that may just be "The" next big thing.
Terrelle Pryor is the type of player that could will his team to victory much like Jake Plummer did when he took down the Nebraska dynasty in the late '90s. Couple that game with the fact that USC must travel to Cal, Arizona State, Oregon, and to a much-improved Notre Dame, and the road will be tougher than in years past. But hey, that's just one guy's opinion.
Do I have you convinced yet? Might there be some Greeks masking as a gridiron rival to bring the wooden horse in to defeat the Men of Troy by surprise this year? Perhaps. Could it also be that the team that enjoys some of the best weather, cheerleaders, fight songs, and tradition continue to roll on with out mercy?
Sure, after all, history has a way of repeating itself. The question is, which re-run will it be?