It's been five years since Pete Carroll left town and the NCAA came down on USC in 2010. Five long, interesting, unpredictable, wild and wacky seasons of some of the strangest moments a college football program -- and its fans -- will ever live through.
A total of 65 games in all that lines up with a story idea that Irish Illustrated, Scout.com's Notre Dame site, came up with to reflect on the same five years in South Bend for Brian Kelly's time there, ranking the top wins -- and losses -- in his 65 games.
Not a bad way to look at USC right now as we rank the good and the bad from the five years -- and four head coaches -- of USC's post-NCAA-sanctions seasons.
Today, we look at USC's Top 10 wins over that time. And yes, they were there, in double digits, even if the losses seem a bit more seared into our memory banks right now from the 44-21 overall record. Those will come in Part 2.
From No. 1 through No. 10, here we go:
USC 20, Stanford 17, 2013: National prime time TV, Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, College GameDay, a sellout crowd of 93,607 at the Coliseum, No. 5 Stanford in town aiming for a fifth straight win over the Trojans now led by Ed Orgeron in his sixth game succeeding the fired Lane Kiffin. But as exciting as the win was, with that fourth-down completion from Cody Kessler to a limping Marqise Lee keeping the game-winning drive alive for an Andre Heidari 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left, it was the amazing once-in-a-lifetime rushing of the field by joyous USC fans realizing that maybe, just maybe, the Trojans were back in a season that started with a couple of horrific losses.
USC 38, Oregon 35, 2011: With Phil Knight's Nike NBA All-Star crew on the sidelines in Eugene and a raucous Autzen Stadium crowd assembled for the fourth-ranked Ducks' expected stompdown of the 18th-ranked Trojans who had no bowl game to go to, this one went the way of the man in the all-white ski ensemble. Even if the Trojans, so dominant in the first three quarters and clearly the better team, had to hold on to win thanks to hurrying Oregon into a missed field goal at the buzzer. For Kiffin, this was as good as it would get in his three-plus years as USC head coach. And for this 2015 USC team, that film of how USC ended Oregon's 21-game home win streak should make for good viewing in late November.
USC 50, UCLA 0, 2011: How about those all-white UCLA uniforms the Bruins wore to the Coliseum in a game that saw us say goodbye to Rick Neuheisel after a romp USC fans have had to live on the three years since. In fact, it's become more and more a distant memory after three one-sided losses in the Crosstown Rivalry that have the Bruins up 111-63 nearly matching that single-game point differential from 2011. But if a 50-0 win to close out a comeback season that allowed USC to finish No. 6 in the AP Poll and claim the right to be allowed to represent the South in the first Pac-12 championship game, even if denied, that was as good a way to close a season as USC could manage right then.
USC 31, NOTRE DAME 17, 2011: This was the night that Notre Dame went all out, moving to the latest kickoff in 21 years and latest ever for a USC game there so the Irish could accommodate all the recruits flyng in from California to see the triumph. That USC not only won this one, but did so in a pounding, physical way that created talk that the Irish just didn't really want to play any more at the end as USC dominated the game on the ground, made it all the more worthwhile for USC fans not all that thrilled with the late, late hours getting back to Chicago for the night.
USC 45, FRESNO STATE 21, 2013 Las Vegas Bowl: The end of a three-coach season -- or was it four with the hiring of Steve Sarkisian after Orgeron's eight-game stint that gave way to Clay Helton for the bowl-game -- turned out much more pleasantly against the 21st-ranked Bulldogs than anyone could have imagined. With just 44 originally recruited scholarship players and a mere six practices under offensive coordinator Helton, who stepped in for Orgeron when he resigned after not getting the head coaching nod, USC used Cody Kessler's record four TD passes to the likes of Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor with Buck Allen joining in the offensive heroics to run away from a Derek Carr-led FSU team that simply wasn't athletic enough to stay with USC.
USC 49, NOTRE DAME 14, 2014: Beaten down after a third straight loss to UCLA, the fast-starting Trojans got their act together against a staggering Notre Dame team with 85 scholarships that had started to come apart at the seams the second half of the season. The 35-0 lead USC jumped out to, and the 35-point final margin that was the second-widest in the storied series, helped to make up at least a bit for the failure a week earlier for the Trojans to win the Pac-12 South and miss the league title game. Kessler's six TD passes were the most ever for an Irish opponent.
USC 31, OREGON STATE 14, 2013: For the Orgeron Era, this was the game that declared the soul-deadening Kiffin Era over and put away for good. In front of a sold-out crowd on a Friday night in Corvallis, USC used Kessler's 81.0-percent passing (17 of 21) and Allen's three TD runs to dominate the favored Beavers. Football was starting to look like fun again for the Trojans.
USC 13, STANFORD 10, 2014: This one was as close to the vest as it gets with a mistake-plagued 13th-ranked Stanford team getting into the Red Zone five times but scoring just twice. After jumping out 7-0 after a 68-yard opening drive, a play-slow USC tied it at 10 on a Heidari field goal that set up the winning 53-yarder with 2:30 left. But if the game is remembered for anything as Sarkisian's first signature win at USC, it would be the arrival on the field from the pressbox of AD Pat Haden to intercede with Pac-12 officials who were doing what Pac-12 officials tend to do in the second half of USC-Stanford games. While it earned much criticism, it seemed to stalemate the striped shirts who let the game be decided by the players.
USC 48, CAL 14, 2010: After a back-to-back pair of one- and two-point losses literally with no time left on the clock to Washington and Stanford field goals, something that had never happened before in USC football history, and after giving up 69 points in those games, the Kiffin coaching duo needed this one badly in Year 1 and the Trojans responded to getting turned loose. It was 42-0 at halftime with Matt Barkley firing five TD passes and Robert Woods catching two of them. The second half didn't much matter after that.
USC 34, ARIZONA STATE 33, 2010: It may not seem that big a deal now but avoiding a third loss at the buzzer or nearly so on a field goal when ASU's Thomas Weber missed from 42 yards out in a game USC was leading 29-14 late in the third quarter, was a major victory. Especially after USC gave up 19 straight points thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return and a 66-yard pass interception and had to improvise to surprise at the Coliseum. Torin Harris returned an extra point blocked by Tyron Smith for two precious points and Joe Houston after missing earlier from 29 and 35 yards hit a game-winner from 29 before Weber's miss with 1:39 left. It wasn't pretty but with help from Malcolm Smith's 74-yard interception return for a TD, the Trojans avoided falling to 2-4 in the Pac-12 in Year 1 of the Kiffin Era.
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