Coaches and players cannot, must not, look ahead.
Better not violate the time-tested singular way of looking at things. It's one game at a time. Don't get out ahead of your skis or you get your head handed to you.
But that's for the folks on the field, not for us.
We know the deal for those playing the game. It has to be that way. Win Saturday at Stanford or none of this big picture stuff matters. You can't win the second game if you don't win the first.
And yet it's hard not to notice. Has there been a more important seven days in modern USC football history? Certainly not in the 21st Century.
Think about it. In seven days, a 3-1 USC team (2-0 in the Pac-12) could be flying high having dispatched this year's favorite for the Pac-12 title and a major challenger for the South Division. That's a big seven days from Saturday on Leland Stanford Jr's farm in Palo Alto to the sight of the Wasatch Range in Salt Lake City next Friday.
The only time that came close, we'd think, in impact although it took eight days -- a week and a day -- might have been back in 2002 when a seventh-ranked USC team, after losing two early games, rolled over No. 25 UCLA 52-21 at the Rose Bowl. Then followed that up the next week with a 44-13 romp over a then No. 7 Notre Dame as the sixth-ranked Trojans got themselves into the Orange Bowl where the Trojans beat No. 3 Iowa 35-18 and signified that USC football was indeed back.
Those back-to-back romps eight days apart also won the Heisman Trophy for Carson Palmer, something USC had been shut out of for 21 long years since Marcus Allen's 1981 win. And started a run of three USC Heismans in four years.
And while no such individual possibility would seem to exist today, it's not too late for the Trojans as a team to re-introduce themselves, even in their not-quite-sure-who-we-are-on-offense persona of the first two weeks under a permanent Clay Helton in 2016.
Although to be honest, for all practical purposes, this is Clay's second full season now that he's 7-5 as a head coach. And yes, it may sound sacrilegious to note the comparison of second seasons between what happened under Pete Carroll, one of the great coaches of his time, and newby Clay.
But that's the point. If you want to coach at USC, if you think you have what it takes to restore the Trojans to one of college football's all-time top five programs after what they've been through for much of the last decade for reasons we all know too well, then you rise to the challenge this week.
That's the beauty of playing college football's toughest schedule. You can make the Alabama game go away -- to some extent, at least -- if you don't play like that again.
And you can take heart in the fact that no one you play from here on out will be anywhere near the class of that motivated Alabama defense that wanted to shut USC down and dance on its lifeless cardinal and gold carcasses the way Nick Saban demanded that they do.
But that 2002 USC team had lost to Washington State and Kansas State, teams it was clearly superior to but just not ready to compete at the level you have to if you want to be among the best. But that team didn't let that be the end of it. It kept getting better as it discovered who it was. And what it meant to play USC football.
That team did not accept the failings of those two games. It played with a "no excuses" mindset after having had to play for clueless coaches and coordinators in previous years. Now we find out where this team's head and heart are -- as well as that of its coordinators and coach.
But before we find out who this team is, this team must find out who it is.
Can it be physical? Can it run the ball better than its No. 98 ranking in the nation with 120.5 yards a game? Can its offensive line get its game together or will it remain at No. 117 nationally allowing nine tackles for loss a game? Can it use the run to set up the pass? Can its receivers get separation? Can it get the ball to them? And can it stay No. 1 in the nation in fumbles lost with none? Can it keep getting production from two quarterbacks a game? Can it get the running backs rotation right? Can it keep securing the football? Can it remain No. 1 in the nation in the red zone with a score every time it gets there? Can it keep up the special teams excellence and stay No. 1 in the nation in both punt return TDs and yardage and No. 2 in blocked punts?
And can it do that against Stanford on the road? And then Utah on the road again, as Willie Nelson would say, six days later?
It has no choice. But that's just a part of it. Can USC become the USC team that has a 61-31-3 record against the Cardinal, its oldest rival, or the team that has dropped six of its last eight including two in Pete's last three seasons?
Can USC get the game that its defense gave it three years ago under Clancy Pendergast against a then-No. 4 Stanford now that Christian McCaffrey is leading the sixth-ranked Cardinal? Can USC be the team with the answers again? The team with a personality to match those fans in the stands here for The Weekender? The team that by game's end just knows it's going to win? The team with the swagger and arrogance? The team about whom those hated Stanford fans will say, "Uh oh, they're back" before this one is over? The team that does all the little things right? The team that has this all carry over from week to week so that next Friday in Salt Lake City is a continuation of Saturday?
And can USC players be the guys who can't wait to get there to show the folks in the Mountain Time Zone what a USC team looks like, what it can do and that what they did last year wasn't a fluke and what happened last time in Rice-Eccles at the end was?
But not in the showy way the Trojans entered AT&T Stadium. But in that cool, confident way USC teams had always let home teams know they were in for it -- once they'd earned the right to do so.
Like they'd been there before. Which they have.
It's what the next seven days are all about.
Not a USCFootball.com member? Sign up now and you'll get a seven day FREE trial! Join the Peristyle Family and get all the great information from USC football practices, Trojan football games, access to the Peristyle and all of the premium recruiting updates on USCFootball.com! Become a member today!