Pete Carroll

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The last time the USC Trojans won the national championship…

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In the years well before Alabama and Clemson surged to be the dominant programs of the college football world, and even before the SEC went on its dominate run of BCS championships, the USC Trojans made their case for being the last great college football program hailing from the Pac-12. The journey to a national championship that many considered to be somewhat stained to this day began after the 2000 season with the hiring of Pete Carroll, a coach who had run his brief course in the NFL as the head coach of the New England Patriots and last coached a college team in 1983 as a defensive coordinator for Pacific. The hiring may have raised some questions about how serious USC was restoring the program to its national championship-worthy caliber experienced under John Robinson in the late 1970s.

History shows now, those concerns were invalidated in retrospect.

Carroll went 6-6 with USC in his first season on the job at USC, but the groundwork for getting USC back to the top was already in progress. Among the first recruits signed by Carroll at USC was quarterback Matt Leinart in the Class of 2001. It didn’t take long for USC to rejuvenate the always rich recruiting efforts at USC, with players like Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Steve Smith and more coming in the Class of 2003. In his second season, Carroll coached USC to a record of 11-2 with a 38-17 victory over No. 3 Iowa. USC followed that season up with a 12-1 record in 2003 that was capped with a Rose Bowl victory over the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines to force a debate over who should have been crowned national champion. USC took the top spot in the final Associated Press poll, but the Trojans were prevented from playing in the BCS Championship Game, that year played in the Sugar Bowl. As a result, Nick Saban and LSU won the BCS national championship after LSU’s victory over Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

After missing out on a chance to play in the BCS championship game due to those silly computer equations, USC went on a mission to leave nothing to be calculated by a mathematical equation to determine their place in history. Labeled the preseason No. 1 in the AP poll, USC went on a historic season with one of the top offenses college football has seen in the modern era of the game. To this day, the USC offense is arguably one of the best that can stand on their own against the likes of the last great Miami Hurricanes team, the 1994 Penn State offense and even the top offenses of today. The season started with a 24-13 victory over Virginia Tech in the BCA Classic in Landover, Maryland, thus establishing their dominance in front of the east coast voters right out of the gates. A 23-17 victory over No. 7 California (a team featuring Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Marshawn Lynch at running back) was followed a week later by a 45-7 demolition of No. 15 Arizona State, with the Sun Devils entering the game at a clean 5-0.

There was little stopping USC from an inevitable run to a Pac-10 championship, although the Trojans had to overcome a minor scare from Oregon State on the road in early November and then pull away from crosstown rival UCLA in the regular-season finale to keep an unblemished record and a No. 1 ranking intact. Bush got the game started with a bang. Cue up that classic Keith Jackson play-by-play…

He’d break loose again later in the game. More Jackson, please…

And in doing so, USC got a chance to go toe-to-toe with the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl, the site of the BCS Championship Game at the end of the 2004 season. A battle of Heisman Trophy winners Leinart and Jason White (Oklahoma’s QB won the Heisman Trophy in 2003, Leinart in 2004) was a complete mismatch. The quest to leave no doubt was fulfilled by USC with a 55-19 dismantling of the Sooners, who had now gone a whole four years without winning a national title.

A total of 14 seasons have come and gone since USC’s blowout of the Sooners. If you have forgotten what was going on all that time ago, here’s a trip down memory lane just for you.

Last National Championship: 2004 (15 years and counting)

Who was President?

George W. Bush was wrapping up his first four-year term in the White House and preparing to win the 2004 Presidential Election. Bush won a much-less controversial presidential election over Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Current president Donald J. Trump saw his company, Trump’s Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, began going through bankruptcy restructuring in 2004. Trump also considered running for president in 2004 before backing off that idea, and he became engaged to Melanie Knauss (who is now known as First Lady Melania Trump).

What was on TV?

Speaking of Trump, he was dipping his toes in the world of reality-based competition on TV. With shows “American Idol” and “Survivor” bringing in massive ratings, Trump starred in the premiere episode of “The Apprentice,” in which contestants battled to win a job working for Trump. Among those contestants was the one and only Omarosa.

Another show with a cult following premiered in 2004 with “Lost.” in September.

What movies were hot?

Harry Potter was back in a big way in 2004 with the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The latest chapter in the Harry Potter film franchise scored $249.5 million at the box office in 2004 but that was only good for sixth on the box office standings that year. Shrek 2, the best of the series, was the No. 1 film of 2004, followed by Spider-Man 2, and The Passion of the Christ.

In 2004, the movie Mean Girls also introduced us to the idea of wearing pink on Wednesday and “fetch” and so much more.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Pittsburgh legend and Arizona Cardinals rookie Larry Fitzgerald graced the cover of NCAA Football 2005 for the Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox. The game featured a full lineup of FBS teams at the time and, just for good measure, included 70 FCS schools to help provide a little more reality to your fictional scheduling needs.

Fitzgerald was a unanimous All-American in 2003 and recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, Walter Camp Award and All-Big East honors. The Pitt icon went on to be the No. 3 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals, where he currently plays today as he is destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (he is not yet in the College Football Hall of Fame but should be a shoo-in for that as well).

Fitzgerald had 92 receptions for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns in the 2003 season for the Panthers.

What else happened in 2004?

Other conference champions in 2004 included Virginia Tech (ACC), Auburn (SEC), Utah (Mountain West), Louisville (Conference USA), and Toledo (MAC). Boise State went undefeated in the regular season to capture another WAC championship, but the Broncos were topped by Louisville, coached by Bobby Petrino, in the Liberty Bowl.

The Big East saw a mess at the top of the standings with Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia all ending in a tie for first place in the conference. What a time to be alive.

The Big Ten title was shared by Michigan and Iowa, which resulted in the Wolverines heading to the Rose Bowl to square off with Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns. With USC playing in the BCS Championship Game, the Rose Bowl got a chance to fill the Pac-12’s vacancy with Texas. Texas clipped Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards and the Wolverines with a last-second field goal for a 38-37 victory in Pasadena. Young rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns in the victory for Mack Brown. The following season, of course, would be a memorable one for the Longhorns at the expense of USC’s bid for back-to-back titles.

You may or may not remember who won the Super Bowl in January of 2004 (the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers), but you most certainly know about the halftime performance involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The Patriots would go on to win a second straight Super Bowl in the 2004 season with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Eagles would have to wait 13 years to get their revenge. During the regular season, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts threw an NFL record 49 touchdowns.

The Boston Red Sox ended their 86-year championship drought with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series after a miraculous comeback in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. Barry Bonds hit his 700th career home run during the regular season, joining Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Although, like USC’s BCS national title, that would go down in the record books with a controversial asterisk.

Keeping in line with controversial figures, Lance Armstrong won his sixth consecutive Tour de France.

Michael Phelps won eight medals at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, with six gold medals and two bronze, making him the first athlete to win eight medals at an Olympics not being boycotted. On the track, future icon Usain Bolt failed to qualify for the second round of the 200m dash. He finished fifth in his heat.

The Detroit Pistons were fresh off an NBA title in the summer of 2004 after topping the Los Angeles Lakers, in six games.

UConn became the first school to win a men’s and women’s basketball national championship in the same year.

Can the Trojans reign again?

USC’s run at the top of the college football world would get one more crack at a national championship in 2005, but as the balance of national title power shifted toward the SEC over the last years of the BCS era, USC’s grip on the national title race started to loosen. Carroll and the Trojans would go on to win three consecutive Rose Bowl games after their loss to Texas in the BCS National Championship Game in 2005, and they did it with records of 11-2 or 12-1. It just so happened USC would fall victim to the one bad loss knocking them behind the national championship pack each year. In 2006, it was a loss to UCLA in the regular-season finale. In 2007, it was a loss to Jim Harbaugh and Stanford that initially knocked USC off course. In 2008, it was Oregon State that upset No. 1 USC and the Trojans couldn’t quite make up the ground the rest of the way.

The Carroll era ended on a winning note in 2009 with a victory in the Emerald Bowl with a 9-4 record as the Trojans head coach moved back to the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. It also ended in controversy as USC was slapped with sanctions tied to Reggie Bush, which vacated Bush’s Heisman Trophy and the BCS national title from the 2004 season. Lane Kiffin was named the head coach of the Trojans, a job he held for three full seasons and was relieved of at the airport in the middle fo the 2013 season. Steve Sarkisian took on the job in 2014 and was let go in the midst of the 2015 season, leaving the job to Clay Helton. Helton coached the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in 2016 with Sam Darnold taking over at quarterback, but the promising 2017 season once again saw a couple of stumbles along the way to prevent USC from having a shot to compete in its first College Football Playoff. The season ended with a loss in the Cotton Bowl to Ohio State and was followed up last season with a 5-7 record, the first losing season for the Trojans since 2000, the year before the hiring of Carroll.

Although USC had a couple of strong years under Helton recently, the power of the Pac-12 has shifted more to Oregon and then Washington in the brief playoff era. Utah, a team in USC’s division, has named the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 this season. The pressure is on at USC to get things rolling again, especially after a rough 2018 season and a bumpy offseason. But the odds are USC will rise again in the future. How soon that happens remains to be seen as the Trojans look to end their current national title drought.

NCAA gets something right in clearing USC blind snapper to play

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The NCAA did something right and will give a long-time USC fan a chance to live out a dream few ever thought possible. Jake Olson, a walk-on center at USC without the ability to see as a result of cancer, has been granted an approval from the NCAA to be able to play for the Trojans. Olson announced the news on his Twitter account late Monday night.

Back in 2009, USC and former head coach Pete Carroll took Olson in as a member of the Trojan family. Although Carroll had since left the Trojans for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Olson did what he needed to do to become an official member of the USC football program. He chose to walk-on to the team this year, although he needed an NCAA waiver to be approved before he could play on the field. As a recipient of the Swim With Mike scholarship (awarded annually from the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship fund at USC), Olson would count toward USC’s 85 scholarship players. You can thank the NCAA bylaws for that technicality, but fortunately somebody in the NCAA offices had half a brain to realize they should not be standing in the way under this circumstance.

The waiver filed by USC sought to not have Olson count against the 85-scholarship limit and instead recognize Olson as a non-scholarship walk-on. With the NCAA issues settled, the world awaits the first snap Olson will take for the Trojans. Olson has been a long snapper in high school and it is believed that will be the most likely position or playing opportunity he will have without the ability to see the defense lining up across from him.

USC’s Sarkisian calls Carroll a mentor but would have called different play at end of Super Bowl

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Optimism is running rampant around the USC Trojans this summer. The Pac-12 media preseason favorite coached by Steve Sarkisian may be a tad overboard on the optimism scale, but Sarkisian seems to be situated well in leading USC back to the top of the Pac-12 despite what his track record at Washington might suggest. On Friday, Sarkisian was a guest on The Dan Patrick Show (simulcast on NBC Sports Network) and had the chance to talk about his working relationship with his former boss at USC and current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.

“He’s an unbelievable mentor to me,” Sarkisian said when asked about Carroll by Patrick. “He’s the reason I’m sitting here talking to you.”

Sarkisian was an assistant for the Trojans three separate times under Carroll, serving as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 2001 through 2008 (he spent the 2004 season with the Oakland Raiders). Sarkisian left USC to become the head coach at Washington in 2009, where he was head coach through 2013 before coming back to the Trojans to be the new head coach in the post-Lane Kiffin era. While Sarkisian may have a deep respect for Carroll, he said he would have called a different play at the end of the Super Bowl than Carroll did.

“I agree with the decision to throw it. I don’t know, necessarily, about the play call itself because I wasn’t in the game planning. From a tactical standpoint, with three downs to go and only one timeout remaining the correct decision in my mind would be to throw the ball on second down knowing you can run it on third and then you have a run-pass option on fourth.”

In case you forgot how the Super Bowl ended last season, Seattle had a 2nd and goal from the one-yard line with just over 20 seconds to play. Rather than hand off to Marshawn Lynch for what would be a Super Bowl-winning score, Carroll had Russell Wilson throw over the middle, and the pass was picked off by New England’s Malcolm Butler stepping in front of Ricardo Lockette.

Later in the show, after the in-studio interview with Sarkisian, UCLA head coach Jim Mora called in to take issue with Patrick’s assistants saying they would want to play for his crosstown rival. Mora was a guest earlier in the week. It was all in good fun, of course, but you have to love rivalry nuggets like this.

Pete Carroll to get honorary degree from USC

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Last summer USC announced former head coach Pete Carroll will be inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame. He will be going in with an honorary degree in hand.

Last week it was announced by USC the former head coach of the Trojans from 2001 through 2009, and current head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, will be given an honorary degree on May 15.  Carroll coached USC to national prominence before turning the Seahawks into a Super Bowl champion.Carroll will be honored for his achievements at USC and his efforts to improve the community. Carroll founded A Better LA, an organization committed to a gang-free Los Angeles. He founded a similar program in Seattle as well.

Carroll will be inducted to USC’s athletics hall of fame the following day, on May 16.

Does winning a national title really give you a boost in recruiting? (Yes)

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Ohio State has been sitting on top of the Big Ten recruiting rankings for a number of years now. According to the team rankings from Rivals, Ohio State has had the top class in the Big Ten each of the past four seasons and all but one year since the Class of 2008. Rivals ranked Penn State’s Class of 2010 ahead of the rest of the Big Ten, with Ohio State coming in third (Michigan was No. 2).The Buckeyes look to be locking up another top class in the Big Ten, which should come as no surprise to those who follow recruiting. Urban Meyer and his staff have been recruiting juggernauts and now they have a push that comes from a national championship.

How much push does a national champion get in recruiting? Since 2003, six national championship teams have seen their team recruiting ranking dip in the ensuing recruiting rankings. Unfortunately, it is unfair to compare one recruiting season to the next as needs change, which leads to a shift in recruiting emphasis on a year-to-year basis. That said, there is no question a team winning a national championship has an extra card to play on the recruiting trail. And, sometimes, teams winning a national title have a recruiting ranking that is so high it is extremely difficult to maintain it or improve upon it the following year.

Unless you are Nick Saban.

Here is a look at the champions of the BCS era and how their recruiting class compared from the recruiting class before winning the championship and immediately after. This list starts with the Class of 2003, the first season we can compare recruiting rankings from the previous season using Rivals.

2003 BCS Champion: LSU Tigers

Rivals Class of 2003 Rank: 1

Rivals Class of 2004 Rank: 2 (-1)

Nick Saban flexed his recruiting muscles at LSU. Equipped with a coaching staff that included offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, the Tigers brought in the nation’s top class in 2003. That season LSU went on to win the BCS national championship. The Tigers followed that up with a stellar recruiting class, but one that was beat out by USC, who had been recognized as the Associated Press national championship that same season.

2004 BCS Champion: USC Trojans

Rivals Class of 2004 Rank: 1

Rivals Class of 2005 Rank: 1 (-)

USC has always been a traditional recruiting power, but winning the national title (which would later be vacated of course), helped keep Pete Carroll and his Trojans to the top.

2005 BCS Champion: Texas

Rivals Class of 2005 Rank: 20

Rivals Class of 2006 Rank: 5 (+15) 

No team saw as big a boost in the recruiting rankings following a championship as Texas did following a BCS Championship Game victory over USC in what many call the best college football game in history, if not just the modern era or BCS era. Mack Brown may have lost steam in recruiting in the years to come, but for one season the Longhorns were ahead of the Sooners.

2006 BCS Champion: Florida

Rivals Class of 2006 Rank: 2

Rivals Class of 2007 Rank: 1 (+1)

Urban Meyer‘s arrival in Gainesville had a mighty impact. Meyer reignited the recruiting efforts at Florida, and winning a national title sent Florida to the top of the SEC and, perhaps more importantly, kept the Gators ahead of Florida State. Florida did not have much room to go, but the Gators overtook USC for the top spot in the recruiting rankings after winning the first of the SEC’s seven straight BCS trophies.

2007 BCS Champion: LSU

Rivals Class of 2007 Rank: 4

Rivals Class of 2008 Rank: 11 (-7)

What we are about to see is that winning a national championship does not always result in a recruiting boost in terms of team rankings. LSU’s second national championship was followed by a seven spot drop in the recruiting rankings, but Les Miles and his program still signed a quality class.

2008 BCS Champion: Florida

Rivals Class of 2008 Rank: 3

Rivals Class of 2009 Rank: 11 (-8)

After winning a second BCS title in three season you might have thought Meyer and Florida would be set up for years of sustained success in recruiting. As we know, the opposite proved to be the case for the Gators and the program continues to try and rebuild to this level. Meyer’s second BCS title was followed up by the biggest drop in the team recruiting rankings. Not only did Florida drop behind SEC foes like Alabama, LSU and Georgia, but Florida State moved back ahead of the Gators as well.

2009 BCS Champion: Alabama

Rivals Class of 2009 Rank: 1

Rivals Class of 2010 Rank: 5 (-4)

With Saban back in the recruiting game, the Tide were not likely to stay down for long. Alabama started to rise in the recruiting rankings as soon as Saban took over and actually suffered a drop in the team rankings after winning the national title in the 2009 season. Of course, Alabama had nowhere to go but down after signing the top-ranked class the previous season.

2010 BCS Champion: Auburn

Rivals Class of 2010 Rank: 4

Rivals Class of 2011 Rank: 7 (-3) 

Auburn actually spiked in the recruiting rankings the previous recruiting cycle. though the Tigers dropped in the recruiting rankings and failed to receive a boost, Auburn was still bringing in a top 10 class.

2011 BCS Champion: Alabama

Rivals Class of 2011 Rank: 1

Rivals Class of 2012 Rank: 1 (-)

Alabama’s current streak of dominance in the recruiting rankings began with the Class of 2011. After winning a second national championship in three years, Alabama was once again back on top of the recruiting world and Saban’s Tide have yet to be knocked from its perch to this day.

2012 BCS Champion: Alabama

Rivals Class of 2012 Rank: 1

Rivals Class of 2013 Rank: 1 (-)

Three titles in four years is hard to beat, and Alabama has become extremely hard to beat in the rankings. For the second time, Alabama repeated atop the recruiting rankings under Saban with a national championship to show off.

2013 BCS Champion: Florida State

Rivals Class of 2013 Rank: 10

Rivals Class of 2014 Rank: 4 (+6)

Florida State had never faded too far out of the elite national recruiting spotlight, but winning a national championship (against an SEC program no less) certainly helped boost Florida State back toward the top.

2014 College Football Playoff National Champion: Ohio State

Rivals Class of 2014 Rank: 3

Rivals Class of 2015 Rank: 7 (-4)

Ohio State is on pace to be the third team to not receive a boost in the recruiting rankings following a national title, although it should also be noted that recruiting is different from year to year. For example, Ohio State does not need to go after a star quarterback with the stock available already, and big time skill players tend to influence the rankings as well. Ohio State is still firm atop the Big Ten rankings, so schools like Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State still have some work to do.