With Oregon State on its way to beating woeful Washington State (Cougars leading, 21-10, at halftime), a six-way tie for the Pacific 10 Conference championship and another trip to the Rose Bowl for USC is officially dead.
So, in honor of the Trojans’ seven-year run as conference kings, here are seven reasons for this head-scratching bump in the road for USC.
1. — “Bromance” with Barkley … Pete Carroll can play whoever he wants at quarterback. He’s earned that right and gets paid $4.5 million to make those calls. However, ending competition for the starting job a couple days before the last preseason scrimmage and keeping it closed has been a mistake. Even worse, absolving Matt Barkley from any responsibility for his spotty performances hasn’t been a good thing for the Trojan locker room. Seniors, juniors, sophomores, even redshirt freshmen don’t want to hear constant lip-service that a kid nine months out of high school is the leader of their team, especially if the head coach is his personal cheerleader and relentless in offering excuses for every miscue. Football teams aren’t fueled this way. Respect within the locker room must be earned, not bestowed.
2. — Rough schedule … Even though they didn’t stumble at The Horseshoe or under Touchdown Jesus in the first half of the season, the 2009 slate didn’t do USC any favors. Playing four of their first six games on the road was an ordeal, particularly for a young team. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Trojans looked extremely sluggish in their 47-20 debacle at Oregon on Halloween, which was their first roadie after that arduous start.
3. — Hubris … USC annually plays one game in which it arrogantly struts onto an opponent’s home field and expects a gift-wrapped “W.” This year, that occurred at UW. Facing their former offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, in only his third game as the Husky head coach, the Trojans fell flat on their face against a team that had snapped a 15-game losing streak just a week earlier. In recent years, USC has squandered shots at the BCS title game due to these lapses in focus. This season, it’s a primary cause of the Trojans’ first non-BCS campaign since 2001.
4. — Key injuries … The Trojan offense suffered a setback when fullback Stanley Havili, who plays a key role in the passing attack, missed three mid-season games. Likewise for tight end Anthony McCoy, who has been healthy enough to catch just three passes in the last four games, missing two entirely. Certainly having wide receiver Damian Williams available against Stanford would have have helped out a great deal. And perhaps All-America safety Taylor Mays could have changed the fortunes of the Washington game had he not been sidelined. But what football team doesn’t have to deal with injuries during the course of a season? Quality depth simply isn’t a luxury at USC anymore.
5. — Dip in recruiting … The bluechip pipeline to Heritage Hall has slowed since the departure of former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who doubled as the recruiting coordinator. With recruiting efforts now coordinated by tight end coach Brennan Carroll (yes, Pete’s son), prospects are identified too late or not at all, and early commitments have melted away. Last spring, the Trojans lost out on linebackers Manti Te’o and Vontaze Burflict, who would have both looked good in the middle of a USC defense that’s been surprisingly soft as of late. Each recruitment was filled with twists and turns, but in the end Te’o picked Notre Dame and Burfict chose Arizona State, a pair of Trojan rivals.
6. — Coaching staff instability … Carroll’s problem isn’t his coaching, it’s his opinion of his coaching. After having to share some of the spotlight with offensive coordinator Norm Chow during USC’s true golden era (2002-04), Carroll has been unwilling to work with coordinators with any reasonable level of experience. New quarterback coach Jeremy Bates is the third consecutive play-caller that’s learning the art of that craft through on-the-job experience at USC. And despite an unyielding commitment to an inexperienced quarterback, Bates shows little interest in establishing a running game at the school formerly known as Tailback U. On the other side of the football, Carroll has always been the real Trojan defensive coordinator, but it seems he might benefit from an influx of new ideas from a salty veteran. Pac-10 offenses appear to have caught up with him.
7. — Inexperience … Most of USC’s 2008 defense is playing in the NFL this season. Having lost nine starters on that side of the football, a drop off isn’t a surprise, but the level to which the Trojans have fallen in recent weeks is shocking. Over scheming certainly didn’t work at Oregon, so they went with a base approach versus Stanford, which was equally disastrous. Offensively, it was clear that USC would sorely miss quarterback Mark Sanchez by the way Carroll behaved during a press conference announcing Sanchez’s decision to enter the NFL Draft a year early. After throwing his hissy fit, Carroll knew what it would be like without Sanchez, but tried to convince himself and others that things would be fine by constantly heaping adulation on Barkley.
We hate to say we told you so … but we did, back in August.