When the Trojans walked out of the Coliseum a year ago after beating UCLA 50-0, they made a statement. They had played with heart, they were well-coached and they had earned a top five ranking through their play on the field, the way rankings are supposed to work.
The win was akin to an exorcism of the bowl ban shadow the Trojans were saddled with and the future was bright due to clout they had built themselves. Things were good at Troy.
Twelve months later, this set of Trojans walked out of the Coliseum with an about face.
All of that hard work from 2011? Gone. All of that reverence from the national media? Gone. All of the fan support in Lane Kiffin and company? Shot.
To make matters worse, the Trojans had the dubious honor of completing their abysmal 7-5 season with a loss to their arch rivals, which ultimately sends Notre Dame to their first ever BCS National Championship Game.
Things are not good at Troy.
The Trojans turned underachieving into an art-form in 2012. A dropped pass cost them a two-score second half lead at Stanford. A slew of penalties and five turnovers at Arizona derailed BCS dreams. Poor tackling and more turnovers against Oregon forced the sky to fall. At UCLA, it was a slow and uninspired start, in addition to dismal third quarter play calling that did in SC. And lastly, against Notre Dame, with nothing to lose against the nation’s No. 1 team, it was poor coaching that killed the Trojans, yet again.
Time after time, week after week, the Trojans found themselves beating themselves.
They played a tough schedule and SC’s opponents deserve a ton of credit for their wins, especially Stanford and UCLA who left the Trojans looking bewildered at times.
Having said that, it’s hard to say that a well-coached USC team wouldn’t at least be BCS bowl bound with this roster.
A well-coached team wouldn’t have been standing with their hands on their hips at the Rose Bowl early in the first quarter. A well-coached team wouldn’t have committed so many costly penalties and turned ball over so many times at key moments. A well-coached team would have had a killer instinct.
On paper, the Trojans are an elite team. They have elite playmakers at the skill positions and they’re young and will seemingly only get better. But if they want to improve after hitting rock bottom on Saturday night, they’ll have to improve mentally and out-prepare teams as they did under Pete Carroll.
Lane Kiffin doesn’t have to be the next Carroll and he won’t be. But if he wants to achieve the goals he’s set up for the Trojans, he’ll need to lead the way, as opposed to dragging them down.
Athletic Director Pat Haden came out and said that the expectations were too high to begin the season, and Kiffin has made it clear that scholarship restrictions have hurt the Trojans.
While a roster of 75 certainly doesn’t help, it wasn’t a walk-on dropping passes on fourth down or an undersized two-star recruit throwing passes to Marqise Lee when Matt Barkley went down. And even when injuries have reared their head, it’s hard to say it entirely put the Trojans behind the eight-ball in any single game.
Peripheral excuses are full of hindsight, but the reality is that going into the season, the expectations and the rankings were justified.
The Trojans weren’t overrated in the slightest. They deserved the hype. They had playmakers no one else did and was coming off of form that was nearly unrivaled.
They simply underachieved, but just did so on a scale so grand that it put everything into question that didn’t necessarily need to be.
It comes down to coaching, execution and preparation. USC needs to focus on fixing those three principles if they want to pick of the pieces from this mess, as opposed to blaming hype or sanctions.