USC Football: Trojans Face Season-Defining Week


When looking at the 2015 USC football schedule before the season, the first game to jump off the page as a danger zone for the Trojans was the Week 4 trip to Tempe to play Arizona State.

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It checked all of the boxes for a pending disaster. It’s USC’s dreaded Pac-12 road opener, in which they’ve lost five times in past seven seasons. It’s also coming off a game against Stanford to invoke the ‘Body Blow Theory’, all while being in a building in which the Trojans haven’t won since Pete Carroll roamed the sidelines.

So if you had to bet the house on which game the Trojans could lose before the season, you were probably picking ASU.

Fast forward to today. The same criteria still applies, but now USC is set to go to the desert off of a stunning shootout loss to Stanford, in which they were they were fleeced by a team that could only muster six points against Northwestern.

A key game for positioning in the Pac-12 South has now become an absolute must-win game for the Trojans, as they cannot afford to drop two conference games this early in the year.

In 2014, USC was 4-0 in the weeks following a loss, outscoring opponents by a combined 156 to 67.

“This is the turning point in the season that can define us,” Cody Kessler said on Saturday. “It depends how the team can respond to adversity.”

In 2014, the Trojans responded pretty darn well to adversity. And that was needed, considering that the way in which USC lost their four games last season was potentially crippling to a team’s psyche.

Troy was trampled by Boston College in a shocking road upset, lost on a Hail Mary against Arizona State, blew a late lead in the final seconds at Utah and were thoroughly dismantled by crosstown rival UCLA.

Yet despite those heartbreaks and gut punches, they were 4-0 in the weeks following a loss, outscoring opponents by a combined 156 to 67. Among those four was USC’s biggest road win of the season, a 28-26 besting of the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats, who wound up winning the Pac-12 South.

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That’s a resume feature the Trojans’ would love to have someday, making ASU such an important game for the season’s trajectory and imperative of continuing the trend of bounce-back wins.

Intradivision games practically count as two in the standings given the wacky tie-breaker scenarios are surely bound to be scoured over come November.

Or as linebacker Anthony Sarao said on Saturday night, they’re the games that USC is prioritizing.

“[Stanford] is in the North and we’re in the South,” Sarao said. “In the grand scheme of things [the loss] is not acceptable, but we’re going to get back and win the South.”

The somewhat dismissive nature of playing a conference foe like Stanford probably isn’t what fans want to hear, but with how much of an emphasis head coach Steve Sarkisian has put on winning the Pac-12 South, it’s not surprising that that’s the mentality.

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Anthony Sarao (56) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not necessarily misguided either, as the grounds for making the College Football Playoff isn’t akin to that of making the BCS National Championship Game.

Win the conference and you’ll have a serious argument of getting a chance to play for all the marbles, regardless of whether or you’re undefeated or boast America’s favorite buzzword, a ‘quality loss’.

But USC’s margin for error is gone now. If they want to be like last year’s Ohio State or Oregon, they’ll need to shake off their early season loss with a renewed vigor.

“We have to do a good job as leaders of this program so that we don’t lay in the weeds ‘woe is me’,” Sarkisian said. “We have to get back up and go on the road at Arizona State and fix the things that need to be fixed and get a win in the South division.”

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Last year’s bounce-back history may be on their side in a revenge game, along with the apparent fact that ASU hasn’t shown themselves to be the world beater many expected before the season.

The Sun Devils were decidedly beaten by Texas A&M in the season opener, struggled with Cal Poly of the FCS and couldn’t distance themselves from lowly New Mexico as easily as they should have.

Yet, the trip to Tempe is still every bit as worrisome as it was before the season because of those little things that caught your attention then.

Like with everything surrounding this USC team, you have to see them prove they can do something before you can truly be confident in saying they will.

It comes down to the Trojans deciding what they want their season-documenting Blu-ray to say.

If it’s a road to redemption story in the vein of USC’s 2008 team that lost their third game at Oregon State, they’ll pick up the pieces and play more driven than ever, from here on out.

If it’s another chapter in the tales of underachieving like last year, the outcome will be irrelevant and could be just another elevation change on a season-long roller coaster ride to nowhere.

Bottom line, this game has to matter if these Trojans want to matter.

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