COLUMN: USC is a fallen power

first_imgA lot can change in a decade, especially in sports. Ten years ago, an undefeated USC team came to South Bend as the undisputed preeminent program in all of college football. Notre Dame and its coach, Charlie Weis, wanted a victory so badly they resorted to a Belichickian  move of growing the grass to slow down USC’s dynamic athletes. Ultimately, USC prevailed in tremendous fashion with one of the most memorable plays in Trojan history, the Bush Push.The close loss to USC was lucrative for Weis, who used the 34-31 defeat to ink a contract extension that week. That was the power of USC 10 years ago. The Trojan program was so dominant and widely revered that even a close loss served as a signature victory of sorts. Not everyone may have liked USC, but everyone respected the Trojans. Opposing programs and fan bases got up for USC games. They were the biggest game of the season for every team who faced USC.Fast forward 10 years, and the state of the USC football program is almost diametrically opposed. I was in South Bend this weekend, and there was no extra emphasis from the Notre Dame fan base because they were playing a great team. Sure, the rivalry created an electric atmosphere, but it didn’t seem like anyone respected or was scared of this USC team.When Notre Dame won, it was just another victory over a mediocre team. It didn’t mean that much, which is a far cry from what beating USC used to represent. That is how you measure the strength of a football program: how excited opposing fan bases get when they beat you. By that metric, USC is a program in ruins, reduced to an ashen state by a pervasive combination of NCAA bias, poor administrative decisions and abysmal coaching.Beating USC now doesn’t mean anything because it happens so frequently. The Trojans lose everywhere and to everyone, and it’s both frustrating and dejecting as a fan.Of course the NCAA played a hand in this with its crippling sanctions. I hate that fraudulent and sham organization as much as anyone, but it isn’t completely responsible for what has happened to the USC program. The depleted roster and reduced recruiting classes that USC had weren’t conducive to a successful program, but USC still brought in enough talent to be in a better position than they are currently.Let’s not forget that the NCAA punishment might have been diminished or even partially mitigated had the Athletics Department decided to fight the sanctions. Instead, administrators meekly sat there and took it without any fight, much like the Trojans’ defense each week. Combine that with the questionable at best, and horrendous at worst, management of USC’s coaching situation, and a lot of the blame for USC’s current state falls squarely on the shoulders of the Athletics Department.Finally, the aforementioned coaching has been the key catalyst in the Trojan’s demise. Lane Kiffin seemed more interested in sparring with the media and breaking obscure statistical records than winning games. Forgetting about his off-the-field issues, Steve Sarkisian wasn’t exactly a world beater as head coach. He also seemed to care more about how the Trojans won than the simple act of winning. Poor coaching, an incompetent athletic administration and external variables created a confluence of factors that has ruined the USC brand.A lot can be written about the loss to Notre Dame. I personally thought Clay Helton did a solid job as coach, and if he wins more this season he should be given fair consideration for the job. The Trojans showed fight and played inspired football. Unfortunately, they also gave up two 90-yard drives in the fourth quarter and senior quarterback Cody Kessler continued his unfortunate trend of disappearing in big moments and big games. The lack of urgency with which he played in the final few minutes was disheartening.Those are micro issues however, symptoms of a program plagued by macro issues. The Trojans need a leader, a coach who can mold a team in his image and inspire players to compete and bring the Trojan program back. There are coaches out there who can do that — it’s about finding one and not settling for anything less.The USC program is in tatters. The Trojans are not nationally relevant for anything having to do with actual football —  instead they are a has-been. It’s been seven years since the team played in a Rose Bowl, 10 since they played in a national title. For a University with such immense resources and such fertile recruiting grounds that is unacceptable. Thankfully, the right coach can come in and reverse this trend immediately. With the talent laden roster the Trojans have, the right coach ensures that the next time the Trojans come into South Bend it will be the biggest game of the year for the Fighting Irish. That’s how it ought to be, and that is how it will be for every opposing team when USC finally gets a respectable leader.Jake Davidson is a junior majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs Mondays.last_img