In 2008, Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans went 12-1, won the Rose Bowl and finished third in the final AP poll. The next year, they floundered to a 9-4 finish and Carroll departed for greener and mossier pastures with the Seattle Seahawks. Six seasons of a revolving door at the coach’s office followed with Lane Kiffin, Clay Helton, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian combining to go 52-27 and finish unranked as many times as in the Top 25.
Despite stumbling out of the blocks last year by losing three of the first four games, the Trojans flipped a switch and became, by consensus, one of the best teams in the country. They rode freshman phenom Sam Darnold and a stable of NFL-ready playmakers to nine straight wins including a dramatic Rose Bowl comeback against Penn State.
Helton, reinstated as permanent coach, has managed to bring the magic back to Troy, something flashier names failed to do. The Trojans can be found in the top-five of most preseason rankings and are a popular pick to make the College Football Playoff. And it’s easy to see why.
It’s a good problem to have but anything less than a berth in the final four will be a failure for USC. With great ability and opportunity comes great pressure, something the Trojans should welcome. High expectations and razor-thin margins mean a program is back atop the mountain.
Everything appears to be in place for USC to compete for a national title. Darnold is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. An elite recruiting class comes in ready to immediately contribute. Players like Deontay Burnett and Iman Marshall are poised to fill the vacancies created by Juju Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson.
The schedule also breaks very favorably. The biggest challenge presented may be the lack of a bye week.
- Sept. 2 vs. Western Michigan
- Sept. 9 vs. Stanford
- Sept. 16 vs. Texas
- Sept. 23 at California
- Sept. 29 at Washington State
- Oct. 7 vs. Oregon State
- Oct. 14 vs. Utah
- Oct. 21 at Notre Dame
- Oct. 28 at Arizona State
- Nov. 4 vs. Arizona
- Nov. 11 at Colorado
- Nov. 18 vs. UCLA
Western Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame figure to have solid years in 2017. Getting the Broncos and Longhorns at home to start the season should give USC some quality wins and momentum before entering the meat of the Pac-12 slate. Trips to Pullman, Berkeley, Tempe and Boulder aren’t gimmies but, conversely, don’t jump off the page as particularly daunting. Avoiding Washington completely is a positive. Perhaps the two will meet in the conference title game.
The South certainly appears relatively soft. One would think the Trojans could survive an in-conference slip up as long as they beat Colorado head-to-head. Three potentially impressive non-conference wins should boost their status with the selection committee.
It’s all there for the taking for USC. The failure word deserves to be considered if they don’t take it. The program has been fighting to get back to a place where only the best will do.
My money’s on them to win the conference and play for a title. Trojans fans should embrace the high standard because it means the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer and closer.