“At least it isn’t raining.”
I have a feeling that Lane Kiffin has muttered that phrase one too many times since returning to the University of Southern California. I have a feeling that many USC fans have looked over at Lane in disgust as it starts to pour, probably just because he said it. I have a feeling that this upcoming season might just be one of the defining seasons in USC’s storied tradition; that regardless of the outcome, it will either be looked back upon as the moment that USC’s dynasty toppled, or the moment that USC decided to... well, fight on.
(I swear I didn’t mean to be so cliche, I was actually trying to think of a good analogy and that accidently happened upon my lips.)
I’ve been a USC fan since the middle of the 2003-2004 season, the first football game I ever watched in its entirety was USC’s shellacking of Notre Dame. I’m not a bandwagon fan, I was only ten at the time. Here’s the story: I was playing NFL Fever, and I wanted to create a quarterback. I asked my grandfather who the best quarterback in the NCAA was. He said, “Matt Leinart”, and I fell in love with USC that day. Though my grandfather may have been biased, his son had won a CIF Championship at Mater Dei with Matt Leinart and he’s been a Trojan faithful for decades, that name paved the way for my interest in not only USC football, but football altogether. Similarly, my brother chose Ohio State as his favorite program because the number 13 running back on “NCAA Football 2004” ran the “HB Screen” to perfection. I hope you’ll forgive the somewhat unromantic beginnings of my affair with Troy, I swear to you that I’m as faithful and stagnant as they come.
But enough about me... Back to the article.
When I first heard the rumor that Pete Carroll was leaving USC, I immediately thought that it was just another offer and everything would be fine. Our fearless (HA!) leader wouldn’t abandon us, wouldn’t leave us in the ruin that is a 9-4 season (for god’s sake, ARIZONA? IN THE COLOSSEUM?). Then I noticed that it wasn’t just one reporter breaking the news, soon ESPN’s College Football section for tweets was filled with the same report. This one seemed a bit different, even a bit threatening. Within the day, it was all but official, Pete was gone.
For a while, it was pandemonium. USC’s Athletic Director, Mike Garrett seemed desperate to find a replacement quickly, that would not only stopper the panic, but would keep him employed. After all, there was that little investigation that had been looming for four or so odd years. I heard a lot of rumors about who might come in to replace the cornerstone of our success. Gruden, Fischer, Edwards. My grandpa was in favor of Gruden coming in, but I felt that none of these coaches could possibly have the intangibles that Carroll possessed. Not that these aren’t all top-class coaches, there was just something about Carroll that seemed like only he could be as successful as he was at what he was doing. In turn, at least to me, it always looked like he would probably struggle in any other situation as well. I did hear a Chris Peterson rumor that truly excited me. I thought of his unimaginable success at Boise State, how much he could do if he were stationed in the heart of the football recruiting hotbed. That though, was for naught.
Soon, maybe too soon, Lane Kiffin was making his exodus from a burning Knoxville. He arrived at USC before the riots could end. I was... skeptical? No. I was ashamed, distraught, disgusted, and in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that USC had re-hired “Lame” Kiffin (my hand on the bible, I heard that nickname from the mother of a USC footballer during Kiffin’s first tenure)!
I had always seen both Kiffin and former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as cowardly play-callers, content to lean overtly on bubble screens and off-tackles. Though, as the 2009 season dragged on, it became evident that there had developed a trend for the Trojans. I may be incorrect in this statement, but I did hear last year, that Carroll had decided to keep his offensive coordinators on a tight leash after the departure of the mastermind that is Norm Chow. Seeing how well Sarkisian spurred on Washington throughout his first season only reinforced that sentiment.
I liken the way I felt about Carroll’s departure and Kiffin’s return, to how a man who has only been with one woman his entire life must feel when he goes on that first date after his breakup. I was worried about what would happen, now that Carroll's freewheeling culture was gone. I was scared that the staff would follow their Coach to Seattle (they did, all of them), I was scared that Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell would cease to be fixtures at USC practices and games. I was scared that USC was soon to be subject to, what they call in the business, rebuilding. I’m too young to have seen USC’s pre-Carroll struggles, and have been admittedly spoiled as a fan. I was simply scared of change. I still am.
Soon, I told myself that all good things must come to an end, but that this may not be it. Kiffin seemed tight-lipped, at least for Lane Kiffin, and his disciplinary style of coaching seemed somewhat refreshing, especially after speculating that USC might struggle against lowlier opponents because of Carroll’s loose style and carefree attitude. I began to look forward to the 2010 season, when Matt Barkley would no doubt, lead USC to a National Title berth against (Insert 1 loss SEC team here) whilst winning the Heisman, Davey O’brien, Maxwell, and most impressively, the Bednarik, awards.
All would soon be well.
Two year postseason bowl ban, thirty scholarships lost over the next three years, and a vacation of wins, some of which include the BCS Championship and the most memorable USC win in recent memory, a 34-31 heart stopper in South Bend.
I will not go into my opinion on the punishment except as to say that: Though I feel USC did deserve significant enough punishment, I don’t believe that the NCAA acted in consistency with past deliberations. The prime example I feel, is Florida State’s recent vacation of wins due to a cheating scandal that not only affected football, but other major sports as well. This was a case of a number (as in more than one) of ineligible players, and FSU somehow got away with a vacation of wins and a minor scholarship reduction. I’m sorry, but it will be hard to convince me that USC’s Reggie Bush warrants major scholarship reduction, and a two year bowl ban for a team with no relation to his actual play, all by himself.
Nevertheless, it happened, and USC will at the very least, be unable to compete in the postseason this upcoming year, and will lose an entire Championship trophy.
USC could very well lay down and die in 2010. They could play mediocre football, finish with a less than desirable record, and to be honest, I wouldn’t blame them. I couldn’t blame a team for not wanting to play a season with no trophies to play for, especially when it isn’t their fault. The seniors and juniors could start planning for the NFL, and the lower class-men could choose to play without maturity or discipline. But I truly believe, and I truly hope that USC decides to find something to play for. Perhaps for pride and dignity.
If USC finishes the season subpar and fades into a UCLA caliber team, College Football historians will look back at 2009 as the beginning of the end, of the strongest dynasty of the 2000’s. But if USC can grab ahold of the idea of playing for something more than crystal balls, said College Football historians will look back at 2009 as the Cold War of USC Football. The era that significantly threatened USC culture, shook the ground that Traveler walked, but ultimately failed to knock Tommy The Trojan off his horse.
To all USC fans, still fighting on, goodnight, and good luck.