In their wins, most hope the game isn't a challenge, nor is it a ruthless blowout, either.
In scheming, most hope they pass as often as they run the ball.
In personnel, most hope they have at least two skilled players at each position to ensure fresh legs and a seamless rotation.
And in losses, coaches hope their players build character through defeat. At the same time, they hope their kids don't get down for too long.
Striking such a balance is tricky, sure. But when this harmony is reached, wins seem like they could continue forever and losses feel as though they can be overcome.
Unfortunately for Lane Kiffin's Trojans, USC couldn't find any sort of equilibrium in its 43-22 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils in a night of unusual weather, loud fans and a variety of momentum changes for both teams.
From the personnel changes to the offensive scheming, USC became a temperamental richter scale, sweating early Saturday in the House of Heat as ASU converted on multiple Trojan turnovers and handed the road team its first loss of the season.
In the first half, USC stressed the running game and it cost them. In two quarters, the Trojans put up just nine points, all off field goals.
"We knew we were going to run on these guys and that's what we did," offensive tackle Matt Kalil said.
The Trojans focused on Marc Tyler to captain that run game. Kiffin and the coaches were hoping his ball security, his knowledge and his size would carry them into the endzone against a fiesty ASU defense.
"We can't throw the ball 50 times. We just can't. We're not 2005. We don't have that protection and we can't do it so we have got to try to fight for balance and it's what we did at times and at times it didn't work," Kiffin said.
Coming out of the half, the Trojans' run game did work. USC's first drive in the third quarter was capped off when Tyler rushed into the endzone for a score.
The play looked like the start of something new. But like a balanced scale--the lows evening out the highs-- sloppy plays grew like tumors thereafter. And USC soon found itself in a hole created by penalties and turnovers going into the final quarter.
In 175 yards rushing Saturday, the Trojans scored just one touchdown. In nearly the same amount of rushing yards on ASU's side (169), the Sun Devils scored three times.
After a Syracuse game that was an offensive rout, where five Trojans caught touchdown passes, including two by tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, that effort begs the question why USC's tight ends weren't used a week later? Why didn't the Trojans' move to pass when the running game faltered in the redzone?
Striking a balanced offense is tough on the road. Players might not be used to weather conditions (Tempe was a recorded 97 by game's end), the opposing crowd roots for the road team's failure and a player's family and friends are often miles away from the game.
Such are excuses in which you can blame a loss. But at the end of the day, when all the blame fades away, that "L" will remain.
For now, until blame is allocated or mistakes are corrected, people will surmise:
Maybe USC's schedule of three straight home games against weak opponents made the Trojans overconfident.
Maybe the running backs group was too scattered with a committee splitting carries behind starting back Tyler. Four players have been called upon as the No. 2 tailback in as many games. In 33 running plays Saturday, 22 were handed off to Tyler. The second most went to Curtis McNeal, who averaged 3.5 yards a carry in four attempts.
Maybe the Trojan veterans need to look within themselves and make smarter decisions. Junior safety and co-captain T.J. McDonald handed the Sun Devils 45 yards after committing three personal fouls. Fellow co-captain Matt Barkley and senior tailback Tyler both had huge fumbles that set ASU up nicely on two separate drives.
Maybe it's a combination of all those maybes, with the addition of a few what ifs, a couple buts and a hypothetical.
There's an overemphasis on the extra stuff--the media smokescreens, the two-point conversions, the trash talk. And then a subtlety surrounding the basics--the raw, animalistic nature of football, where plays are made more off instinct than thought.
It is impossible to tell how this USC team will fare after just four games.
What is certain, though, is that the Trojans lack balance.
Until they find it, this season looks to be a series of ups and downs, of highs and lows. Every one in cardinal and gold should strap in. 2011 could be a bumpy ride.