2009 will be remembered as a forgettable year for many people. The USC Trojans, who failed to win at least a share of the Pac-10 conference and qualify for a BCS Bowl game for the first time since 2001, are no exception.
Many factors led to a disappointing season for the Men of Troy on offense, defense, on the field, and off the field.
Matt Barkley was named the starting quarterback only nine days before the first game against San Jose State. All seemed well with the true freshman through two games, but the rigors of competing at the college level eventually wore him down toward the latter half of the season.
He regressed from wunderkind golden boy to battered, bruised, and turnover-prone game manager.
Stafon Johnson would have served as a valuable asset to the Trojan running game had a weighted bar not crushed his throat during a September bench-press session gone awry.
This type of injury is rare, but accidents happen, and the near-tragic incident in the Trojan gym was but one on a long list of telltale signs that pointed to a down year for USC.
Southern Cal would end up playing the sixth toughest schedule in the nation. Armed with the 58th-ranked offense in the nation against a very competitive Pac-10, and hampered by an exodus of high-profile coaches, USC had to make up for injuries, inexperience, and a paucity of quality coaching personnel outside of Pete Carroll.
While the mediocre 5-4 conference record and fifth-place Pac-10 finish speak for themselves, the void left by departed coordinators such as Norm Chow, Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin starts to become more noticeable once key players become academically ineligible for the postseason, and star running backs become the focal point of school investigations.
Senior tight end Anthony McCoy, freshman offensive tackle Tyron Smith and senior defensive lineman Averell Spice will all miss Saturday’s game due to respective academic ineligibilities.
Although he practiced with the team in the days leading up to the Emerald Bowl, the status of RB Joe McKnight is still yet to be determined.
Southern Cal’s leading rusher is being investigated for driving a sport-utility vehicle that was supposedly purchased for his girlfriend by a Santa Monica businessman.
The Trojan coaching staff may end up benching McKnight so as not to risk getting into hot water with the NCAA brass, but not having the explosive McKnight could prove problematic against Boston College's 16th-ranked rush defense if backup RB Allen Bradford and fullback Stanley Havili are unable to step up in his absence.
Instead of lamenting the loss of some of the Trojans’ premiere talent, the ever-optimistic Carroll sees opportunity for some of his second-stringers to impress coaches and fans before season’s end.
"Guys are jumping at this chance and hopefully they can do something with it," he said.
The Trojans will square off in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco against an overachieving Boston College team that is led by Dave Shinskie, a 25-year old freshman quarterback who spent six years playing minor league baseball.
The Eagles will also feature star tailback Montel Harris, who has accumulated 1355 rush yards and 14 total touchdowns this season. But the defense is what has turned Boston College into a bowl team.
BC was picked by some preseason prognosticators to wind up dead last in the conference. Instead, they finished second in the ACC Atlantic with a 5-3 record.
Unlike USC, the Eagles, winners of eight of their last nine bowl games, are thrilled to travel to the Bay Area for a chance to play in Saturday's postseason game at AT&T Park.
While their overall records may be the same, these two programs seem to have completely different mindsets headed into Saturday's matchup. This contest could come down to desire and motivation, which would spell trouble for Southern Cal.
A win would mean much more for Boston College’s program than USC’s. In fact, an ‘SC loss would, in many Trojan fans’ eyes, provide a fitting end to a season fraught with mediocrity and disappointment.