Time for a Trojan ID check

You've got to figure out who you are, and who you want to be, and how you get there from here if you want to be the program USC could be.

It's the calm before the storm.

And maybe exactly the time for a moment of reflection about what it is the folks who belong to USCFootball.com care about so much -- Trojan football, obviously, and then the athletic program, in general, and for this winter season, basketball.

There's a way this all comes together right now. And recruiting is just a part of it. Trust me on this. You'll see.

Consider where this football program with an unproven head coach but one who seems like he could have many of the right instincts and a lot of the right way about him as he heads off with his new staff, or at least one that mostly wasn't here last fall. But one that we like a lot for the most part. One that just could work.

Not a sure thing. But with the combination of the players here now and the possibilities even against the nation's most difficult schedule, they have a chance. We've said before that's all you can ask -- that you have a chance.

But USC football has to have more than that. Hope is not a plan, even when you have good reason for lots of it. And no matter how Wednesday turns out, USC has plenty of reason to hope for a successful 2016.

But other than a commitment to play "physical football" and be "extremely aggressive" on defense, who can say where exactly this is going? How sad that it's come to this that we know exactly what Stanford or Oregon are going to look like next fall. But not USC. Not a clue.

There's the problem. No wonder some old-time USC football guys were desperate for a coach like Clay Helton who made a commitment to go back to getting physical, without gimmicks, the way USC teams played the game starting a half-century ago under John McKay. They'd seen so little of it during the shaky sanctions-limited tenures of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.

The issue right now is that none of us know what this commitment means, even the guys pushing first-time head coach Clay. How does this all go together? No way USC should try to be Stanford or Alabama. USC has to be USC.

Could that be a version of the record-breaking stuff Western Kentucky did on offense with the athleticism, the power and speed -- and physicality -- of an Ohio State or a Clemson. We'd be fine with that. But no copy cats here. USC . . . just be USC. Develop an identity.

Know who you are or at least who you want to be. And how you got where it is you are now and how you practice to get to where you want to be and how that sustains you in games with a confidence that if you're you, if you play USC football, you win.

That's what's gone away here. No need to go into too much history. We all know what happened. The important thing is that USC figures out the way to get from here to there. On offense, for certain, where it will be a shared affair under new offensive coordinator Tee Martin.

On defense, Clancy Pendergast's history precedes him here and like last time, despite the youth up front, there would seem to be the opportunity to go aggressive.

But you can't do all that until you figure out who you are -- and where you are -- and where you want to go and what you have to do to get there. Defining USC football is what has to happen here. Is it a team with more receivers than linemen?

If so, how does that square with physical football if your linemen can't give the quarterback time to get the ball to all those receivers? Or if those receivers, for whatever reason, can't get separation?

Call it an identity crisis. Much the same but in a lesser way for Andy Enfield's basketball program with loads of young, talented athletes who can run and jump and shoot the ball from all over the court, and rebound it and score from inside and out when they do.

They've clearly come the farthest the fastest by mostly figuring out who they are and how they have to play. So when at times they don't, when they stand around and play unlike the athletes they are, they're not being true to their considerable uptempo talents.

See the first UCLA game for how all that athleticism works. See this week's UCLA game for a refresher, USC fans hope. And see those spurts in the home wins over the Washington teams last week and the lack of them in the road losses to the Oregon teams the week before for other examples.

With the understanding of how it has to play, this team, with mostly Andy's recruits, can be a very tough out. But that's the key. Oregon anywhere will be tough to play anywhere. Colorado and Utah, even at Galen, and Arizona on the road will be likewise.

But none of them have the athletes to run with a scrambling, transitioning, overplaying Trojan team that takes it to the glass as quickly as it can and kicks it out for a three if it can't. Play any of those teams halfcourt with a walk-it-up-game that has USC's rebounders standing around and getting pushed aside on the blocks and the Trojans are likely in trouble.

Which is what those teams will mostly try to do to USC. Slow it down. Get USC to stand around. Knowing who it is and how it wins, USC can't let them win that battle. We like their chances to keep figuring it out as they go.

And that gets us to the overall athletic program. And a recent phone call from across the country when a person who knows college athletics as well as anyone I can think of wanted to know: Who's running USC athletics right now? How exactly does it work?

And I realized I couldn't exactly answer that. Who hired Clay Helton? How exactly did that go down? None of us really know. We have ideas. We have sources who say one thing or another.

We all know the spate of health-related rumors has had Pat Haden moving on from his AD's position for a while now and when December arrived and he'd missed every regular season football game since Notre Dame, even the folks in Heritage Hall were waiting for it to happen. He'd move on to raise the $270 million for the Coliseum rebuild, we were told.

And yet, while he was moving on, some were charging he was also a micro-manager with a coach's headset on during games. And maybe he didn't make it to football games but there he was at basketball. What's the deal?

Did he, or did he not, as some insiders believe, prevent Clay from filling out the football staff in at least one spot? We know what some think. But we don't know.

And we need to have a better sense of what's going on -- and why. Just as the USC football and basketball programs have to know who they are, so does this athletics program that has clearly been losing ground in some important areas. Football is out of the Top 20 in program valuation now and down to No. 3 in the Pac-12 behind Washington and Oregon.

That shouldn't be. And now there's this. With the Rams coming on board in the Coliseum for at least the next couple of years, maybe more, USC will need a strong, smart, steady hand at the helm. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is a tough guy to deal with. Can we say the same of the USC people on the other side of the table?

Having been involved in a shared stadium with the Reds and the Bengals in Cincinnati, dealing with an NFL team is not a walk in the park. This will take some doing.

And with the possibility of the Olympics on the horizon, the opportunities are pretty much unlimited for USC. But it's not going to happen just because USC is being USC, whatever that means. And is run by people who "get" USC.

What would be a good thing right now is for those people to tell us what exactly that means. What is there to "get?" And how do they know that? And what are they going to do about it?

And the next time we get that call asking what exactly is going on with the USC athletic program, we'll be able to answer.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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