USC Football: Pac-12 Media Days Needs Less Talk, More Do


With Pac-12 Media Days right around the corner, USC football is about to begin the second year under head coach Steve Sarkisian. As the attention begins to shift toward the season, the expectations of the world slowly begin to lower on the shoulders of Los Angeles’ premier college football program.

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While fans and the media will have big expectations for Sarkisian and the Trojans, perhaps nobody will have greater expectations than the Trojans themselves and maybe that is what has been missing from Troy for the past several years.

Whether it’s a program like Alabama, Notre Dame, or USC, people hang on the words of the coaches and players any time a fresh season rolls around. In recent years, there has been quite a bit of talk coming out of the USC camp.

Last year’s rallying cry was the instability surrounding Lane Kiffin and how this year would see the Trojans fight for the man next to them with renewed vigor. The connectivity was supposedly there between players and coach. The talk was there about the new system and how beneficial it was to the players. The results never happened.

While the Trojans showed a ton of promise and flash, the team often faded later in games and struggled on the road. The peak of their road struggles saw the Trojans dominated by an ACC team that hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2009. The last time Boston College won double-digit games was 2007. The Eagles are a formidable foe, but one that USC should not struggle with given the rosters at the time of the game.

The problem with slogans, sayings, and hype machines is in the attention they create. “Turned Up SC” netted USC zero stats that Reign of Troy were able to quantify.

Then there was the Jael Mary at home against Arizona State in a game that largely looked won until it was lost. A loss to Utah in a game that was easily winnable. An awful performance against UCLA in the Rose Bowl and a host of second-half collapses that made some games much closer than many believed they should have been. What about the connectivity between coach and player? Did it lose signal at halftime?

Sarcasm aside, the struggles of last year’s Trojans could be explained a couple ways. There’s the obvious depth issue, with most people understanding that the inability to rotate and freshen players took its toll in a speedy and up-tempo conference like the Pac-12. There were also several injury concerns, but that sorta plays into depth. There’s the nuance of learning a new scheme and system and the understanding that comes with time and experience. Academically speaking, it’s largely a combination of all of these that led to last year’s result.

But it’s also the reason that people will be expecting USC to win in 2015.

Much of the Trojans’ depth concern has been addressed through two solid recruiting classes put together by Sarkisian. If we’re being fair to Sark, calling them solid is probably a disservice. The last two recruiting classes would have sent any coach into a fit of happiness and joy, especially 2015’s class. By bringing in as many college-ready kids as they could find at the high school level, Sarkisian has addressed the holes that plagued the Trojans late into games last year.

The next step for these players is the development phase and that’s something the media is likely to hear about in the coming days.

You’re likely to hear questions like: Where are these players at in their development?; What kind of expectations will Sarkisian have for them at this stage?; Who can people expect to make an immediate contribution?; What hashtag will USC be using this year?

Mar 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian at spring practice at Cromwell Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sarkisian has done a fairly good job of eliminating hype in the media at these types of events.

When asked about last year’s “Turned Up SC” campaign, Sarkisian gave the media the most disinterested response he could manufacture without being disrespectful to the players who were excited about having helped invent the slogan. Sarkisian told the media, “I don’t know. That was brought to me by our players that that’s what I should be saying — ‘Turned Up SC.’ Next thing I know, there is a billboard with my face on it saying ‘Turned Up SC,’ too. So it’s just something fun. You try to stay connected to the kids as best you can. And if that little saying gets us stats, then that’s great.”

The saying netted USC zero stats that Reign of Troy were able to quantify.

The problem with these types of slogans, sayings, and hype machines is in the attention they create.

For a program that can’t even go through a summer offseason without incident — Josh Shaw, Junior Pommee, deflated balls, Unfinished Business, Kiffin claiming he wouldn’t vote USC No. 1, and Bryce Dixon (this year, no less) — these types of distractions often prove to be their undoing over the course of a season. Eventually it becomes a matter of having too many fires to extinguish.

Social media places an emphasis on the type of character USC wants in their players. A brief look at the timelines of many players would reveal a mixture of deep thoughts and team camaraderie, which makes trite expressions like “Turned Up SC” seem all the more out of place. This is a team built to succeed on character, intelligence, and talent, cliche slogans seem to have the opposite effect on the desired result.

All of the marketing plays a role in recruiting, it would be foolish to overlook this point, but it can also have a negative impact if you fail to meet the expectations of your own slogan.

Need proof? How about “One True Champion.”

That brings us full circle to Pac-12 Media Days and the Trojans. With USC expected to win the Pac-12 South and compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the temptation to fall into these old traps will be strong and the Trojans must resist.

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This doesn’t mean they should curb their personality during interviews and press conferences at Media Days, it just means that they should avoid trying to capture the essence of a season yet to be played in some cheeky phrase that almost always ends up biting a team in the ass.

It’s okay to set your table for greatness, but it would be wiser to serve humility as an appetizer.

There is no way to tell what kind of squad the Trojans are going to have for their upcoming campaign. The cognoscenti are as divided as they are unsure and this writer is no different.

The talent, schedule, and hunger are there for the Trojans to take the next step toward their own evolution under Sarkisian. If USC are ever going to make significant progress under a Pete Carroll disciple — this does not necessarily mean winning a National Championship, but it does mean showing progress toward that goal — 2015 feels like it has to be the year.

Will the Trojans deliver on what is expected in 2015? No clue, but nothing said at Pac-12 Media Days is going to change that fact.