On June 10, 2010, the news that all USC fans, students, alumni and players feared would come to light did indeed become a reality. The verdict: former star running back, and Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush had accepted impermissible benefits while the administration within the football offices had some idea that this indeed did go on. The sentencing:
• Postseason ban for the 2010 and 2011 football seasons.
• Vacation of all football wins, including football bowl games, from the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
• Reduction of football scholarships by 10 for the next three academic years.
• Four years of probation from June 10, 2010 through June 9, 2014.
The rumblings from the various news outlets across the country echoed the same sentiments: USC had fallen from grace and it will take years for the program to stand back up, dust itself off and become a champion once again.
News flash—two years is not an eternity and it generally does take that long for players from a previous coaching staff to buy into a new way of thinking.
It happened to Urban Meyer at the University of Florida, Nick Saban at Alabama and it even took Pete Carroll's Trojans a full season-and-a-half to buy into his program. The same group who essentially failed under Paul Hackett, Carroll's predecessor, were now winning Pac-10 titles and destined for BCS bowls.
In his second full season as the head coach for the Trojans, Lane Kiffin has his players, fans and the administration at USC believing that the football program will be able to excel under his guidance even if the black cloud is only starting to move away from south-central Los Angeles.
Let's take a look at the various similarities between the USC Trojans of 2002 and the current group that sits at 9-2 and ranked 10th in the current AP poll. Both of these teams had second-year coaches, an upperclassman quarterback from Orange County, a stingy run defense, solid young receivers, a mediocre first season under the new leadership and a Monte Kiffin defense that can stifle any opposing team if it is running on all cylinders.
Lane Kiffin is slowly molding this young group of Trojans to always compete, finish games and showing that the players he recruited are becoming the biggest contributors to this Trojan team.
Taking the three gut-wrenching, last-possession losses last year to Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame and even this year to Stanford in triple overtime, you could easily see that the Trojans were competing, giving it their all and not folding until the final whistle blew.
Couple that with the fact that Oregon was favored by 14.5 points over USC this past Saturday, the Trojans had never been that big of an underdog in the last 12 years, Oregon and Stanford had apparently passed the rest of the Pac-12 in talent and accolades and that the national media had essentially written USC off in this game (12 ESPN writers polled for this game alluded to an Oregon victory, except for Lou Holtz), the upset was indeed the biggest win in the Kiffin era.
If the Trojans are able to beat the UCLA Bruins at home next weekend in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, they will have won four straight, seven of their last eight and will be returning between 16 and 18 starters combined on both sides of the ball next season (quarterback Matt Barkley and offensive tackle Matt Kalil, both juniors, have a big decision to make after the season is over).
Given the fact that most of the team will remain intact for next season, the team is growing organically with all the Southern California talent that has come up big this season, separated itself from UCLA and the rest of the Pac-12 South division, the Pete Carroll hangover is starting to clear up and that this team now has almost two full seasons under the new coaching staff, the team can only be expected to win at least 11 games next season and compete for a Pac-12 title and thus a spot within a BCS bowl.
For those who thought that hiring Kiffin was a great idea because he would coach USC while they were under heavy sanctions and get fired in a few seasons of mediocrity, think again.
He has excelled under heavy scrutiny, a new athletic department and director, tighter operations than the openness that was the Carroll era and won what was the biggest upset victory for USC football in the past decade.
This clearly shows that Kiffin is here to stay and will lead the Trojans back to the glory that they will most certainly relish tasting again.