The Trojans began the season ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press while entering the season with a hungry senior quarterback. They slipped up against Stanford while favored and lost a thriller to a Top-5 ranked Oregon Ducks team seemingly destined for a BCS Championship Game berth. The predicament? A sure-fire ticket to the Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl, with Arizona State and UCLA left on the docket and standing in the way of a come-from-behind conference championship.
That was 2007.
Fast forward five years and Lane Kiffin’s 2012 Trojans will try to get on their pathway to emulating their predecessors with a win over the Sun Devils on Saturday. In 2007, ASU was ranked 9th in country when the Trojans stopped by Tempe for a Thanksgiving tilt, as John David Booty and company miraculously put a two-loss USC team back into the thick of the title race in college football’s most unpredictable season.
This year, the only title race that Matt Barkley and company could claw themselves back into is the Pac-12 race, which currently sees the Trojans three wins away from getting to the Rose Bowl and surprising everyone. Just like in 2007.
Then, with Mark Sanchez filling in for an injured Booty, the Trojans were left for dead after losing to Oregon.
It was a season in which the Pac-10 was at its peak, with three teams ranked in the Top 2 at some point in the season, and it looked as though the Ducks and Sun Devils would run away with the conference and trips to New Orleans and Pasadena, respectively.
But alas, the Trojans won their way back to the Rose Bowl by going back to the basics and winning with defense, as they sacked ASU’s Rudy Carpenter six times and held UCLA to just 12 yards rushing.
The 2012 team will be hard pressed to eliminate the Bruins’ solid running game, but if they’re going to find themselves going back to the Rose Bowl, it’ll have to be won with defense in three straight games.
The Trojans’ defense was no where to be found against Oregon this past Saturday, and while they discovered that the way to beat the Ducks is to outscore them, at some point it only starts to be conceivable with a defensive stop or two.
Judging by UCLA and Oregon’s ability to score 60 points this past weekend, if the Trojans don’t return the defense back to the stout form from early on in the season, a dim glimpse of Roses will fade away quicker than Barkley’s Heisman chances.
Booty excelled against ASU in 2007, and Barkley will look to do the same this Saturday, but scoring 40 points and setting more passing records will mean nothing if they can’t further put themselves in control of their own destiny to win the Pac-12 South.
Despite being stacked with three losses against them, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that USC doesn’t need an epic Oregon collapse to help them win a title, as they only have to beat them once, if they can hold off UCLA and the Arizona schools for the Pac-12 South title.
Unfortunately, given how good Oregon and UCLA are, the long odds of Oregon’s 2007 collapse with Dennis Dixon’s injury might have had better odds.
In 2007, the Trojans got to the Rose Bowl to face another team with preseason titles hopes only to fall flat on their face early: the Michigan Wolverines. This year, it could be USC vs. Wisconsin in a battle of two underachieving teams.