When USC was winning big under Pete Carroll, it was hard to imagine that a better run of success was possible. The Trojans, following Miami’s run of dominance in the early 2000s, one-upped the Hurricanes and set the bar high for the future.
USC had a 34-game winning streak, won two national titles and were 20 seconds away from winning an unprecedented third successive championship, which would have made them the first to win back-to-back BCS championships.
Even after that, Carroll led the Trojans to three more dominant Pac-10 seasons and Rose Bowl victories. Seven BCS games in a row seemed to be a mark that would be hard to beat.
But for how dominant of a stretch as it was, there are moments of regret during the final four seasons of the streak, as the Trojans missed piecing together a dynasty that would have been impossible to surpass, not just exceedingly difficult.
Four years removed from the last Rose Bowl berth, and following the third national championship in four years for Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, it’s clear that USC’s run has been matched and now lies in peril of being completely dwarfed.
To get to this point, Alabama has been able to do what the Trojans couldn’t do, which is finish.
Even though USC dominated under Carroll, they continuously shot themselves in the foot and settled for controlled greatness, as opposed to unprecedented glory.
You know the story.
Reggie Bush strangely botches a lateral to Brad Walker in the first half. LenDale White can’t convert on a checkmate 4th and 2. A personal foul on Darnell Bing takes away a fourth down at midfield, and a minute later, Vince Young waltzes into the end zone past Frostee Rucker, with just 20 seconds left.
Then there was the shocking 2006 upset loss to UCLA that cost them a shot to rout Ohio State in the National Championship Game, letting Urban Meyer’s Florida do the damage.
A year later, the Trojans lost to Stanford, a 40-point underdog, forcing them to miss out on another shot at Ohio State, with a two-loss LSU team taking advantage and blowing out the Buckeyes.
Then in 2008, USC finally got their shot at Ohio State, beating them 35-3 in the home opener, only to be upset in Corvallis the next week. That ended the possibilities of a dream matchup with Meyer’s Gators.
Two titles, seven BCS games and seven conference championships could have easily been anchored with at least four championships, with an argument being made for six in a row.
They just couldn’t do it.
It’s extremely hard to win that many championships, and all things considered, other than Lloyd Lake and Reggie Bush, there’s nothing to hang your head about Carroll’s tenure at USC. It’s just the losses to lesser opponents that makes Alabama’s achievements conjure up thoughts of ‘what could have been’ for the Trojans.
In these last four years, Saban’s Tide haven’t let the little things beat them and they’ve taken advantage of every moment, even when they were thrown a bone in the polls.
Alabama did what the Trojans couldn’t do.
With losses to LSU and Texas A&M in the regular season the last two years, Alabama could have easily allowed their seasons to play out like USC’s 2006 and 2007 campaigns, but they finished. They took care of their business and squashed the moments that could have led to regrets.
As Saban told the media on Monday night, Alabama never played entitled. They played with the intentions of working to win, rather than getting complacent.
Not even taking 2012 into account, it’s hard to say that USC never played entitled at times. In losses to UCLA and Stanford in 2006 and 2007, they surely did. They got ahead of themselves and expected to win on talent alone, something Alabama hasn’t succumbed too.
Had the Trojans been able to finish their battles in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the Carroll era could have been defined more by the number of BCS championships, than an incredible record of consecutive BCS bowl appearances.
Had that happened, Alabama would still have a long way to go before being considered the ultimate dynasty. Right now, that title seems rather appropriate.