Pete Carroll has built this Trojan team on the concept of competition. For the Trojans, competition is everywhere and Carroll believes that it needs to be at the center of everything his team does. One of the trademarks of his program has been the belief that it's all about the Trojans, that if they take of their business the results will take care of themselves. The players learn that if they perform at their own standards there is nothing that will stand in their way and for 24 of the last 25 games they have seen that concept rewarded with victories. The only blemish in that streak, as we all know, came last fall at the hands of the California Bears.
It's hard to describe the look that comes over the face of a USC player when you bring up the 2003 Cal game. The only thing that stood in the way of an undefeated, undisputed national championship season was the triple overtime loss in Strawberry Canyon. One of the difficult things for the Trojan players to accept about the game is the reality of their first half performance. They know they didn't perform at the level they are capable of playing and it cost them. Sometimes you are able to rally out of those situations, we saw it happen two weeks ago against Stanford, but sometimes you don't and despite a dramatic comeback it wasn't enough on that day.
The Trojans right now stand at #1 in the country heading into this game and Pete Carroll has made it clear that they are trying to accomplish something very difficult in shooting for an undefeated season. In this game on Saturday his program gets perhaps their biggest test on the road to accomplishing that goal. Of course, for Carroll, he wouldn't have it any other way. If you want to be the best, what better way to prove it along the way than to beat the only team that has beaten you over the last two years?
Some of the Cal players are saying the Trojans are out to prove their victory was a fluke. I don't see it that way at all and I don't think too many USC players see it that way either. To the contrary, Cal has proven that if we don't show up and perform at a high level they are more than capable of beating us. What it comes down to for Carroll and the Trojans is the ability to perform at their standard. The Trojans are such a proud football team right now and that feeling is based in fact because they've earned it. They have been a dominant football team in so many areas and this game will be about how they execute. The Bears are riding high with a lot of confidence including a powerful offense that will be taking full aim at the vaunted USC defense and the coaching match-up should be a great one. Carroll doesn't take a backseat to any coach in the nation right now but Tedford has seen as much success against him as anybody over the last three years so you know Carroll will have his competitive juices flowing for this one.
Coaches and players will say they want to win all the games but every so often there comes a game that you want to win a little more. This is one of those games. The true measure of a championship program is how you respond when so much is at stake and for a competitor like Pete Carroll, and the team built in his image, the opportunity to test yourself in that situation is what it's all about.