With six postseason practices behind them, USC's Trojans move into the second phase of Holiday Bowl prep work early Wednesday and here's the hope USC fans should have.
That the spirit of the half-dozen upbeat, uptempo workouts thus far continues right on through Dec. 27. That the full-speed-ahead, attack, attack, attack, use-all-your-weapons and see if that's good enough way of playing the game plays out now -- and through the 2015 season.
Because this should be the kickoff for what comes next, not the finish of Steve Sarkisian's first season that had its extreme highs -- the near-record romp over Notre Dame, the dynamic freshmen, Cody Kessler when unleashed, but also the extreme lows at Boston College and UCLA and those last plays against Arizona State and Utah.
Which is why the reporting on these six practices has been as upbeat as the practices. And much as it was on the Notre Dame postgame declarations by Sark of moving on to an aggressive, physical, demanding, attacking style of play from now on.
Maybe some of this is just the natural evolution of a coach whose five seasons at Washington never allowed him to go full-speed all-out attacking. Just not enough depth of talent.
Maybe it was the difficulty of trying to combine the announced upbeat practice and game tempo style with the reality of game situations where an attacking USC, despite its diminished numbers, would establish leads and then try to hold on by not attacking quite so much.
So just as Sark has talked a great deal about the opportunity for "developing" USC's younger players, it's also a chance to develop his own philosophy and put it into practice with his coaches. The pace we're seeing now and we saw in the spring and summer, when practices were player-run, and August camp, we'd like to see carry over to game-day decisions.
It's the essence of coaching. How do you transform that practice field energy and execution to a 60-minute game? The best coaches can and do just that.
What we're seeing in December is encouraging. But now comes the time to get ready for Nebraska. And there is something of a dilemma here.
How much do you develop not only your young guys, but the guys who will be on the field making plays Dec. 27? How much is the gameplan about countering Nebraska? And how much about getting USC to play up to the Trojans' talents and abilities without regard for the opponent the way the great programs do?
In other words, going forward, how does USC win football games?
Do the Trojans do it by being the best they can be week after week after week -- attacking, physical, making teams adjust to them and what they do best?
Or do they come up with finely crafted gameplans that balance out just the right amount of predetermined runs and passes and change them week to week depending on the opponent?
And do so even though that's not the way USC practices when it practices as well as it has the last two weeks. Or in the spring, summer and fall camp.
Our take: USC should be USC. First and foremost, a physical and fast Trojans team must attack, exert its will in a dominant way as it showed it could do in the first quarters this fall when it outscored 12 opponents by 121 points. The emphasis should be on doing what great Trojans teams have always done.
Don't overthink this. USC can get players to play this way. To play like they practice. Then there's this -- and we thank "JD from DC" for making the point on this week's Podcast.
This is a USC team with a half-dozen starters watching practice who will allow the full recruiting class coming in this February not to have to be drafted into starting roles the way this year's nine or so rookies were. We're talking Chad Wheeler, Lamar Dawson, Jabari Ruffin, Tre Madden, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and Kenny Bigelow, all probable starters, and all back next season.
Combine them with 10 potential returning starters from the Notre Dame game on offense and seven on defense and that's the kind of nucleus you can build on to make, as Sark said immediately after the ND game, a "championship" run.
And sure, there are several coin flips in those returning numbers above. We're not counting Leonard Williams. But when you hear Sark talk about competing for a championship or how having a degree correlates with longevity in the league, it sounds like he's competing to keep Nelson Agholor and maybe even Buck Allen aboard for the kind of team season that could bump them up in the draft.
And Cody Kessler, of course. We know Cody has been talking of his late interest in listening to the NFL possibilities after his special season. But the hope for USC fans has to be that it's a call from Cody to Sark to let it all out this season. To use all the weapons for as many of the 60 minutes a game as the Trojans can.
A call to make 2015 about USC going all out punching and not trying to be the counterpuncher with coaches really good at risk-management.
Play like you practice -- or have been practicing when you practice well -- should be the rule. One other way USC has done well here is how Sark & Co. have made practices competitive when they go all-out.
They've incorporated more freshmen better than any team we can remember. Again, credit spring, summer and fall camp for much of that -- as well as players like Adoree Jackson and Juju Smith and their special maturity that matched their skill sets.
Lots of plays. Lots of players getting to make all those plays and take all those snaps.
Take just one position: offensive guard. Four freshmen, and four freshmen only, started there this season and USC survived somehow. You just do not see that. Credit the coaches. Credit the talent they had to work with.
Now take that -- that "next guy up" mentality -- and apply it to the entire team as it also worked out in the secondary. Go for it. Trust your players to make plays for you. Free them up to do so. And keep them competing.
And start Wednesday -- combining the best of the last six workouts with gameplanning for the Huskers. Make the Holiday Bowl about USC. Use it to set the tone for next season.
But not at all in a way that downgrades USC's focus on Nebraska. Next year is just that. All that matters right now is to start it this December.
And you can't get off to the start you'd like next fall without finishing out this year. A big finish with USC using all its weapons and getting after it as if the first quarter extended through all four quarters will be a big help here in all sorts of ways.
Who knows, decisions to stay or leave may be dependent on what happens here. And what it says for next year?
But enough of next year. It's the next game that matters. But not so much the next opponent. This has to be about USC. All about USC.You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at email@example.com.