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, we said the other day when we ranked the Top 10 Wins in the 65 games of the Post-Pete Era.
And now we look at the other side of that coin -- the worst losses over the last five seasons from USC's 44-21 record. And maybe it's just human nature but finding 10 really good wins for USC in that time frame was not all that easy.
But limiting the "bad losses" to 10 was impossible. Probably just the way it works when you are a program like USC has had -- even during the post-NCAA-sanctions period. The Trojans were expected to win. And when they didn't, well, you have this list of the bottom 16.
As to our scale for weighting these, there were all sorts of factors. Embarrassment, disappointment, opponent, impact on USC, the circumstances leading up to the game, the way the game played out -- that sort of thing. Some of these were more important than others depending on the game. You'll see how this goes. And probably will have your own thoughts here.
The list, from worst to first, or the "baddest" of the "bad losses" to the ones not quite so hard to take.
GEORGIA TECH 21, USC 7 (SUN BOWL), 2012: Sure, this game didn't really matter. But that's what made it all the worse. USC finally got to a bowl game after the NCAA penalties and then screwed it up as badly as you could possibly screw something up, from Lane Kiffin turning over the offensive part of the game-prep to his assistants and then taking it back once they got to El Paso. From generating so much bad pre-game pub -- deserved and otherwise for a USC team that didn't want to be here and played like it to going with the wrong quarterback in place of Matt Barkley, who wasn't going to play but no one would admit as much. From an offensive gameplan as badly called and executed as could have been imagined to a postgame confrontation in the USC lockerroom that was more physical by far than anything that happened on the field during the game, this was ugly. Those black eyes the coach tried to hide behind the dark glasses weren't the only ones from a bowl game that finished off a season of so much promise that had USC preseason No. 1. No team had ever fallen farther in a single season. Oh and then there were the new Ronald McDonald shoes USC broke out for the game -- as bad as it gets in every possible way. And then Kiffin, after beclowning himself so in every part of the Sun Bowl glare, was allowed to return for 2013. Yep, it just does not get any worse than the 2012 Sun Bowl. Or we have to hope it won't.
WASHINGTON STATE 10, USC 7, 2013: Proving that almost nothing had been learned in El Paso just two games and one offseason later, it all came rushing back as the ill-considered two-quarterback system produced one whole touchdown for USC against a Wazzu defense more likely to give up half a hundred. But then of course, Buck Allen was still fourth-team and Cody Kessler was still looking over his shoulder and WSU fans were pinching themselves at what was unfolding on the Coliseum turf in this first game ever on Fox Sports in this, the 90th anniversary of USC playing at the Coliseum. The only upside: There woud be only one more of these under Lane.
STANFORD 21, USC 14, 2012: The preseason No. 1 Trojans had already dropped to No. 2 by Game 3 in Palo Alto against a 21st-ranked Stanford squad that took a half to figure out it could knock the Trojans around and take away Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee in the process. And so they did, the final 30 minutes after trailing 14-7 at halftime. As it turned out, this was all a preview of a USC second-half season collapse when the Trojans would lose five of their last six and end up unranked.
ARIZONA STATE 62, USC 41, 2013: For the second time in two seasons, USC gave up a school-record 62 points. And did so in a game when the Trojans were leading in the third quarter only to get whipped by three TDs with the most exciting onfield action that night in Tempe occuring when Pres. Max Nikias conferred with A.D. Pat Haden at the end of the bench about what was going to happen at the airport when the Trojans got home. Bye bye Lane after three-plus seasons and one too many embarrassments -- although there were far more than that.
UCLA 35, USC 14, 2013: How to pick which one of the last three losses to UCLA would be first . . . or worst on this list. Well, this was it. USC under Ed Orgeron had won six of seven, and five in a row, and despite being ranked No. 23 to UCLA's No. 22, USC was favored at the Coliseum. The only negative: Should USC win, some worried, would CEO have to get a real shot at a non-interim head spot. As it turns out, he wouldn't. In a game that would play out three straight years, USC suffered a double-digit loss in the Crosstown Rivalry to the much more physical Bruins. And CEO would never coach another game at USC.
UCLA 38, USC 20, 2014: Similar scenario. USC had won four of its last five in the Pac-12 and needed just one more to make it to its first-ever Pac-12 title game. Only the result was similar, as well, for another year. USC got pushed around in every phase of the game starting with the gameplan through to the offense, defense and special teams. Getting used to it by now, of course, but still a bummer.
ARIZONA STATE 38, USC 34, 2014: Just one play, one moment in time, elevated this somewhat nondescript game from last season in front of 70,115 disbelieving fans at the Coliseum who thought that their Trojans, having not given up a TD pass the first four games, would be fine to protect them until the final 3:59 of the game when ASU, with a backup quarterback, threw for three . . . that's 1-2-3 -- passing touchdowns in less than four minutes. And the last one, the "Jael Mary" from 46 yards out as time -- and ultimately USC's Pac-12 chances -- ran out despite all 11 Trojans defenders "mostly" playing the same defense.
UTAH 24, USC 21, 2014: Just when USC fans thought things were turning around, along came Utah three weeks after the Arizona State game and two weeks after USC had ducked a second straight loss at the buzzer at Arizona, the Trojans found themselves on the road hoping to hold on. Or maybe just get one more first down with the ball on the Utes' 27 with a third and 2. But no. No first down, not on either trick play the Trojans unveiled. And no holding Utah on a final 73-yard, 11-play drive for a game-winning score on a pick play that went uncalled. If only Adoree Jackson's length-of-the-field fumble recovery TD hadn't been called back by the confused -- I know, redundant -- Pac-12 crew.
BOSTON COLLEGE 37, USC 31, 2014: Just a speed bump on the way back to the big time for the No. 9 Trojans who had gone in and knocked off Stanford the week before in Palo Alto. Turns out the Trojans were the speed bumps here as they had no idea how to stop the Eagles' option attack. Nor did USC have any way to get Buck Allen going on the ground try as they might. The only good news here: No Trojan was hurt when the Eagles fans, celebrating their first win over a Top 10 team in a decade, stormed the field.
ARIZONA STATE 43, USC 22, 2011: After three straight wins to start a season when USC might have had as much of a chance to win it all as anyone by season's end -- if they'd been eligible for the postseason, the Trojans came to Tempe and it all went south in the second half. Matt Barkley, Matt Kalil, Rhett Ellison, Robert Woods & Co. melted in the desert heat in what has started to become a pattern
But it doesn't end there. Six games just missed our bottom 10, never to be forgotten. Here they are:
*** The 2010 Stanford 37-35 win leads the way here in honor of that nameless timekeeper who we'd all like to forget who got the game ball and stole a game USC should have won.
*** Giving up a record 62 points didn't hurt quite as much the first time since USC managed to score 51 points against the second-ranked Ducks in front of 93,607 at the Coliseum as Oregon may still be running untouched as we type this.
*** For USC fans who wondered how USC would do without Barkley, they got their answer in 2010 in Corvallis: Beavers 36, Trojans 7 after Matt's first-half injury. And it was way uglier than that.
*** The 6-1 Trojans may have plunged from No. 1 to No. 10 despite a 6-1 start in 2012 but the voters knew what they were doing as USC fell 39-36 despite Marqise Lee's record 375 pass receiving yards.
*** Here's one game on this list Steve Sarkisian can feel good about as his second Washington Huskies team came into the Coliseum and went away with a 32-31 win USC became famous for losing late in these years.
*** And finally, there was this to end the 2012 regular season. No. 1 Notre Dame. Another sold out Coliseum crowd with the whole nation watching. And USC going with backup Max Wittek. And the Irish winning 22-13 to get into the national championship game. But what if the Barkley had been healthy? Or Kessler the quarterback? Or someone beside Kiffin the coach?
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