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Sunday, October 18, 2015

What's Wrong With USC Football?

What's wrong with USC football? This year, they were supposed to contend for the Pac12 and nation titles, but instead they will be lucky to qualify for an elite bowl game. The same could also be said for the 2012 season, which they began ranked #1 by the Associated Press but finished unranked, the first team to do so since the 1964 Ole Miss Rebels.

The standard line I hear from USC fans is that its because of the sanctions the program suffered as a result recruiting violations that occurred during Pete Carroll's reign as head coach. As a result, the football team had to vacate its final two wins of its 2004 national championship season (including the national championship), as well as all of its 2005 wins. The team was also banned from bowl games in 2010 and 2011, and it lost 30 scholarships over three years.

Most analysts agree that the sanctions were overly harsh, but is that the reason why USC's football team has fallen on hard times? At first glance, it appears that might indeed be the case. Consider, for example, how its recruiting rankings fell after the sanctions hit (from Scout.com):
  • 2010 - #6
  • 2011 - #5
  • 2012 - #20
  • 2013 - #18
  • 2014 = #10
  • 2015 - #1
As these rankings make clear, beginning in 2012, rather than ranking in the top-10 in recruiting new prospects, USC "fell" 10 slots into "only" the top 20 in terms of recruitment. But now consider the recruiting rankings of its Pac12 rival, Oregon:
  • 2010 - #13
  • 2011 - #13
  • 2012 - #15
  • 2013 - #17
  • 2014 - #22
  • 2015 - #21
Over the same time period Oregon was no more successful in terms of recruiting top prospects than USC, but the Ducks still out-performed the Trojans on the field. Thus, USC fans really shouldn't blame all of the program's problems on the sanctions. They have hurt, but the real problem, in my opinion, is coaching. Pat Haden (and Mike Garrett before him) keep trying to recapture the "glory years" of the Pete Carroll era (which in many ways is stunning considering that Carroll abandoned ship after it became clear the NCAA would sanction the Trojans) by hiring former assistants of Carroll's. They first hired Lane Kiffen, who turned out to be a bust as a head coach, and then they hired Steve Sarkisian, who turned out to have other (and far more serious) issues.

Sarkisian's hiring was possibly the more egregious because after Kiffen was fired in the middle of the 2013 season, assistant coach Ed Orgeron took over and led the team to a 6-2 record over its final 8 games. Haden (and USC) could've hired Orgeron, but unfortunately (at least for USC) he chose Sarkisian, a decision that proved disastrous. To paraphrase the Grail Knight in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Haden chose poorly. Next time (if there is a next time for Haden), he should choose wisely and pick someone based on their merits, not because they were Pete Carroll's assistant.

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