In 2006 it was to UCLA in heart-breaking fashion.
In 2007 it was to Stanford, the 41-point underdogs that pulled off an unbelievable one-point upset.
In 2008 it was to Oregon State, for no reason at all.
And in 2009, it was in mind-boggling fashion to Washington, the same Huskies team that went 0-12 the year before.
Four years in a row, USC was poised at the outset to go on a championship run, and each time they dropped the ball. Not to teams at or near their competitive level, but to teams the Trojans had absolutely no business losing to.
If USC has a weakness it is this: the trap game. Recently, the Trojans have fallen victim to it every time.
The stadium lights have yet to come on for the 2012 season, and already many have USC picked as one half of the BCS Championship game. According to Vegas, this squad has 3/1 odds to win it all. Really, these predictions make sense: USC ended its season with a triple-OT classic against Stanford, a dominating win over the Oregon Ducks in Autzen, and the-football-monopoly-in-LA-is-definitely-NOT-over beat down of their cross-town rivals, UCLA.
Oh. And then Matt Barkley made Christmas come early when he announced he would be returning for his senior year.
Those reasons, coupled with the fact that USC is returning an extremely experienced squad would suggest that, yes, the Trojans will make a run for Miami this fall. Furthermore, the Trojans get to host Oregon—a team that will have rookie Marcus Mariota at the helm instead of Darron Thomas—Cal, and Notre Dame at home, while other nemesis Stanford will have to completely rebuild its offense after the spectacular seasons with Andrew Luck.
But—and there is always a but—USC has at least three games—at Utah, at Washington, and at Arizona—on its schedule that are definitely traps and could derail its whole season.
To be sure, ‘SC’s history of choke jobs can be tied to Pete Carroll, who often played down to the level of his inferior opponents, which led to his team’s demise. But even under Lane Kiffin we have seen USC drop games, like when it lost to ASU last year, a team that posted a 6-7 record. The Trojans always bring it against tough opponents, but the “easy” games are what should make Trojan fans hold off on purchasing a flight to Miami just yet.
First, USC has to travel to Utah in October. While the Utes weren’t exactly formidable in their 2012 Pac-12 debut, they were just a field goal away from upsetting USC in the Coliseum. Granted, USC hadn’t yet found its identity at that point in the season last year, but it was a scare nonetheless. This time around the Trojans will travel to Rice-Eccles Stadium on a Thursday night, a game that just reeks of a possible upset. The Utes will return nine offensive starters including their top four receivers, top two running backs, and a healthy QB in Jordan Wynn. We didn’t really get to see what Wynn could do last season as he was plagued by shoulder injuries, but if said surgically-repaired shoulder holds up this year, he could be a serious threat.
Then the following week, USC has to go Husky Stadium to take on Steve Sarkisian and his boys. Washington will probably garner a Top 25 ranking early in the year, but it has to face LSU, Stanford, Oregon, and USC within a five-week stretch. The Huskies could possibly face the Trojans after dropping all three of these games, which is what makes this particularly trap-like for USC. Last year, ‘SC gave Washington the business in a 40-17 romp at the Coliseum, in another clash between Kiffin and Sark. The Trojans were looking for vengeance after losing to Washington by a field goal two seasons in a row, and they definitely got it. Expect Washington to do the same this year, especially after a possible losing streak.
What could hurt them though is that they no longer have their top running back, Chris Polk, who ran for 1535 yards last season. They also lose both of their top receivers but they are returning six offensive starters, including a healthy Keith Price. On defense, they return five of their six top tacklers and have added the highest-rated safety recruit in the country, Shaq Thompson. If USC is not careful, the Huskies could be the reason ‘SC’s first season post-bowl ban ends in Pasadena and not Miami.
Lastly, USC travels to Arizona to face the Wildcats. On paper, this is a no-brainer win for USC; the Wildcats went 4-8 and fired their coach, Mike Stoops. However they replaced him with offensive guru Rich Rodriguez who will likely turn this Arizona team around. A signature win against mighty ‘SC is exactly what Rodriguez needs to bolster his team, and if USC goes into this as lax as it did against ASU last year, the Trojans could be in big trouble.
USC will likely enter all of these games as the favorite, and if it lives by the “one week at a time, no games off” mantra, Kiffin and this team will get to taste bowl game glory after being left hungry for two years.
However if history repeats itself, one of these games will be the Trojan Horse that catches USC off guard and causes the walls of Troy—and their national title hopes—to come crashing down.