Tradition. Major market. Sexy location. First choice of most all recruits. USC has it all. Even in the John Robinson/Paul Hackett mire of the 90s common wisdom was that Southern Cal was a sleeping giant.
And common wisdom was correct. USC hired NFL washout Pete Carroll before the 2001 season, who after one 6-6 year turned things around in epic fashion.
Of course it didn’t hurt having Carson Palmer and Troy Polemalu in place (both Hackett recruits).
Now most all other colleges would love to have USC’s “problems”. Discounting that first 6-6 year, Carroll’s juggernaut is 78-9 since 2002. They have finished 1st or tied for 1st in the Pac-10 all of those years.
Yet consider that USC was probably favored to win all but a few of those games, and is Carroll’s record that impressive?
Why does USC annually crap their pants against one woefully undermanned Pac-10 opponent? Why did USC seemingly play everyone close in the Pac-10 last year? I have a theory.
75% of USC games are over after the first quarter. 90% are done after the first half. They get the ball, score, stop you, score, the band starts playing that incessant song and lights out. You expected to lose. They expected to win. Expectations met is one of life’s true pleasures.
But look out if you’re the team that can stick around with USC. For whatever reason, and despite their massive advantages in personnel, they have a fragile disposition. It’s like they don’t know how good they are.
The Pete Carroll/Wade Phillips caretaker coach method is perfect for blowouts, and a disaster in tight games. Watch the replay of Oregon State’s tipped ball td at the end of the first half where they show Carroll. His emotions are on his sleeve. When the play is resolved Pete’s holding his clipboard on his head with an expression that screams, “Well maybe it’s just not our day.”
On his way to the locker room Carroll gave his standard happy-go-lucky interview, “It’s fine. We’ll figure it out.” If I was a USC fan I might have enjoyed something along the lines of “This is an unacceptable effort. Our starters are taking their positions for granted. And if they don’t start playing I have plenty of guys who want to.”
Why not pull a Coach K and come out of the locker room with the backups for a set of downs? They’re still all elite recruits that Oregon State didn’t get a sniff of. They show the starters that the game is simple, USC has their swagger back, the starters are dying to get back into the game to prove they deserve it, and suddenly the Trojan sideline is back where it ought to be: smelling blood.
I wonder if they miss Ed Orgeron. For his faults as a head guy, he certainly would not have stood for the 100+ yards of rushing the Trojans surrendered in the first half to Jacquizz Rogers and co. (And jesus did that young man look like a talent. You’ve done it again Mike Riley.)
I imagine Orgeron would have called Brian Cushing to the front of the assembled defense at the half, told him to close his eyes, and mercilessly beat the hell out of him with an arm he just ripped off one of the trainers.
Instead Pete Carroll took his “We’ll figure it out” countenance to the locker room and USC continued to play as if their season was not on the line. His idea must be that USC’s superior talent and athleticism at literally every position will manifest itself. Most games it does, after all.
But that leaves me to wonder, couldn’t any number of coaches do that?