. . . best for the rest of the conference that is!
I totally get how USC alums can be so devoted to their football program. It's not unlike the devotion that Yankee fans have to their team, and no doubt the disdain/fear/awe that everyone feels toward that team ratchets up the feelings. But at this point, it's more like the Yankees during their bumbling period in the mid- to late-1980s, when everyone else in the AL East took turns winning the division except them.
And you have to wonder, how much of it is because of Coach Lane Kiffin? It's easy to take potshots at him, as the Oregon fans at FishDuck do . . . repeatedly. Just some "highlights":
- Voted his team #1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, after publicly declaring he would not vote his team #1.
- Revoked a scholarship granted to a walk-on, giving it to a convicted felon instead. Kiffin’s response when asked about it? “He was fortunate to have one for a year.”
- Banned walkthroughs for visiting teams under the guise of “protecting the Coliseum’s turf”.
- Offered advice to new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien on how to handle sanctions and retain players, then demonstrated the necessity of that advice by poaching the Nittany Lions’ best player, Silas Redd.
The latest mini-scandal is the fact that USC cheated in the Oregon game by deflating their footballs when on offense, thus giving their players an unfair advantage because deflated balls are easier to catch. Kiffin has denied ordering this, but some sports columnists are doubtful, noting the pattern of cheating/win at all costs/etc.:
I'm sure working for a head coach who has a penchant for finding every low-class maneuver in the book to get an advantage had nothing to do with it. I'm sure the "rogue manager" had to come up with this in the isolation chamber of his own nefarious little mind.
Anyway, USC may be 6-3 (3-3 in the Pac-12) right now, but remember that the Trojans were ranked #1 at the start of the season. And you can understand why. Matt Barkley, possibly the #1 pick in next year's draft, came back for his senior season -- the first post-bowl-ban year -- with something to prove. Also coming back was junior Robert Woods, one of the best wide receivers in college football and possibly a top-25 pick next year. Another possible top-25 pick is center Khaled Holmes, described by one scouting report as "the best center in the draft class by a large margin." Woods might not even be the best WR on the team, though, as sophomore Marqise Lee is pretty awesome already.
But wait, in addition to keeping all those skill position players from last year's team, USC -- as noted in the FishDuck post -- poached Penn State running back Silas Redd, who projects to be drafted at least.
Meanwhile, USC's main Pac-12 competition, Stanford and Oregon, both lost key players from last year's teams. Look at this website's rankings of the top 40 Pac-12 players from 2011 and where they are today:
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford [Indy Colts, #1 pick]
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon [SF 49ers, 3d round pick]
3. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford [Miami Dolphins, 2d round pick]
5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC [returned]
6. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon [undrafted but left Oregon]
7. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford [Pittsburgh Steelers, 1st round pick]
8. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon [undrafted but left Oregon]
10. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford [returned]
12. T.J. McDonald, S, USC [returned]
13. Matt Kalil, OT, USC [Minn Vikings, 1st round]
14. Robert Woods, WR, USC [returned]
18. John Boyett, S, Oregon [returned but got injured in game #1 and out for the season]
19. Delano Howell, S, Stanford [undrafted free agent for Buffalo Bills]
24. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford [returned]
28. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford [returned]
30. David Paulson, TE, Oregon [Pittsburgh Steelers, 7th round]
37. Nickell Robey, CB, USC [returned]
40. Nick Perry, DE, USC [Green Bay Packers, 1st round]
USC returned more of those top players than Stanford did, and Oregon essentially lost all of its top players. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about the outlook at the beginning of the season:
Along with Barkley, who is a leading Heisman candidate, the Trojan offense returns nine starters, including 2011 All-Conference center Khaled Holmes, a thousand-yard rusher from 2011 in senior running back Curtis McNeal, and two thousand-yard receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. In addition, former Penn State running back Silas Redd transferred to USC and will be immediately eligible to play during the 2012 season. The addition of Redd means the USC offense now boasts two thousand-yard rushers, two thousand-year receivers, and a 3,500-yard passer from the 2011 season.
On defense, the Trojans return seven starters and four All-Conference players, including first-team All-Conference performers in safety T. J. McDonaldand cornerback Nickell Robey, senior defensive end Wes Horton, and the team's co-leading tacklers in sophomore linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, who was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
USC returns 18 starters and thirteen All-Conference performers in 2012.
Yikes, I probably would've voted them #1 if I'd had a vote! And yet, with that stockpile of talent, not to mention the losses that Oregon and Stanford endured, USC lost to Stanford and Oregon, and to top that off, also lost to Arizona, which is a respectable 5-4 overall with a nice win over Oklahoma State, but only 2-4 in the Pac-12, including a terrible 66-10 loss to UCLA.
USC's remaining three games aren't gimmes, either. Arizona State is 5-4 (3-3 in the Pac-12) and still in the hunt for division crown (though they don't control their own destiny). UCLA is 7-2 (4-2) and does control its own destiny. And at the end of the schedule is 9-0 Notre Dame. USC certainly has the talent to win all three games, which would earn a likely rematch against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. But given that USC found ways to lose to Stanford (did you know that the QB who replaced Luck has been benched?), Oregon, and Arizona, it's also possible that the Trojans could lose all three games.
How is this possible? It's hard to avoid concluding that the Trojans underachieve because of their coach. So, as a Cal fan first and foremost, and then a UCLA fan, I hope Kiffin stays at the helm for as long as he wants!