Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Fall of Troy

USC was living on borrowed time, make no mistake. That seemingly impressive victory over Nebraska was but a mirage because now we know the 'Huskers really weren't any good. The Trojans barely got by Washington, a team manhandled in the second half by Ohio State. And finally, the house came crashing down Saturday night against Stanford.

From 2002-2006, USC won more games and had a better winning percentage than anyone in college football. But Saturday night's loss likely marked the end of USC's dominance, a five-year period that produced two national titles, nearly a third, and no lower than No. 4 at the end of each season.

John David Booty will get a lot of the blame. It's now sufficiently proven that he wasn't a worthy successor to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. His off games resulted in Trojan losses. His most awful game came Saturday night, and gave us the upset of the season. (Yes, Michigan, you're off the hook for now -- and you can thank one of your own, Jim Harbaugh).

But the unraveling of the Trojan Empire actually began following the 2004 season, when offensive coordinator Norm Chow bolted for the Tennessee Titans. The 2005 USC team made it to the national title game, but a couple of play-calling mistakes, particularly the fourth-and-2 call with two minutes left in the game, cost the Trojans their third successive national title.

In 2006, the USC offense, after the losses of Leinart and star running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White, became more stale. In the shocking loss to UCLA, the Trojans were inexplicably impotent against a very average defense, producing only one touchdown. That loss prevented USC from appearing in its third straight BCS title game.

In the offseason, the offensive brain drain continued. Lane Kiffin, who had shared play-calling duties with Steve Sarkisian, left to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Now it appears that he is going to be missed, as Chow was.

(Say this about Al Davis: He's pretty damn good when it comes to recognizing young coaching talent -- John Madden, Tom Flores, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, and now Kiffin, who has the Raiders tied for first in the AFC West. Al's problems came when he hired old retread yes-men like Mike White, Joe Bugel, Norv Turner and Art Shell the second time.)

But back to USC. Saturday night's loss was further illustration that this program, once the gold standard, has slipped. And much of it has to do with the death of creativity on offense. I had predicted that the Trojans wouldn't go undefeated this season, and now I will add that this won't be their only loss of the year.

The Pac-10 will have a new champion in 2007. The USC Dynasty is over.

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