USC Football: Was the 2014 season truly successful?


Steve Sarkisian turned heads and caused some eye-rolls on Saturday night after the Holiday Bowl by declaring the 2014 season a ‘total success’ for USC football.

Winning nine games and beating Nebraska in a bowl game isn’t anything to scoff at, but that’s the level of performance that ultimately cost Bo Pelini.

And Nebraska is considerably farther removed from their glory years than USC, with this season being just the fifth since Pete Carroll left the Trojans for the Seattle Seahawks.

So was 2014 truly a total success for USC? It comes down to perspective.

It’s whether or not you determine the success of the season to be based solely on this year in a time capsule or the over-arching trajectory of the football program.

And before you paint yourself in a corner, it’s worth mentioning that both the short term and the long term are critical in all aspects, from recruiting to donations.

When meddling year in and year out becomes the norm over the long haul, you have a problem.

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But while the Trojans have only won 10 games in a regular season once since 2008, they haven’t quite been in the best position to win that many on a consistent basis due to sanctions.

USC had just 51 recruited scholarship players in the Holiday Bowl, and that’s an improvement on the 44 at last year’s Las Vegas Bowl and the 48 in October against Utah.

Yet it hasn’t ravaged the Trojans or rendered them incapable of winning. We know this due to the way USC lost games this seasons.

While they did routinely took their foot off the gas to conserve energy late in games, Troy repeatedly found themselves with late leads.

In 11 of 13 games, USC was ahead in the final ten seconds. In one of the other two games, they still found a way to secure multiple double-digit leads.

A team incapable of winning under sanctions couldn’t do that as consistently.

But given the ways that the Trojans have lost games –primarily though the tandem of poor coaching decisions and a lack of late game execution– it’s hard to argue that sanctions were the specific reason for USC’s 9-4 record.

So again, it comes down to the perspective.

Looking at 2014 as a 13-game block, it was a failure due to what it could have been.

This team lost the games it shouldn’t and had nothing to show for it because they gave away others they should have already won.

The Trojans inexcusably came out flat against a much inferior opponent in Boston College, gave away a win to Arizona State in mind-blowing fashion and couldn’t finish off Utah.

They were a Hail Mary from winning the Pac-12 South and perhaps a face plant against BC away from earning a trip to at least the Fiesta Bowl and checking off a couple of preseason expectations for Sarkisian’s first season.

But being that close and not getting there isn’t good enough at USC. Because even when Carroll’s teams came up short, they were meekly winning Rose Bowls.

This team lost the games it shouldn’t and had nothing to show for it because they gave away others they should have already won. That makes for an unsuccessful season.

However, if the perspective is viewed in the long term, then the way the 13 games were resolved in 2014 doesn’t matter.

The season is viewed as its own solid mass, to which a 9-4 record with a first-year head coach under sanctions looks good. It’s better than Pete Carroll did in 2001, plus they didn’t embarrass themselves in a bowl game.

That’s the view Steve Sarkisian is taking.

And while it’s the coach thing to do –drawing on the positives to play up recruiting and bottling some momentum for the offseason– it’s hard to argue he’s wrong.

“We’ve laid a good foundation in year one of where we’re headed as a program,” said Sarkisian on Saturday night. “Our future, and I’ll say it again, is ridiculously bright.

He’s right. USC is in a position to go into 2015 with perhaps the best senior quarterback in the country in Cody Kessler, while current true freshmen like Adoree’ Jackson, and JuJu Smith are only going to get better while the roster numbers normalize with a full recruiting class hitting campus this summer.

So with the Trojans not regressing in 2014 during a transition year, you can’t consider the season to be unsuccessful. Therefore, it’s successful if you’re looking long term.

The problem in solely looking long term however, is that while college football royalty are called perennials, it’s the annuals that get crowned champions.

So really, what has USC done for you lately?

Was the 2014 season a success?

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