The Trojans are in the beginning of the end – as Coach Carroll puts it "We're starting our finish." This is the blood and guts part of the season for USC – the sledding stage - the Dawg Days.
The next seven games for the Trojans could prove tougher than the first six. This might not seem the case, considering only two of the final opponents have winning schedules, but that is exactly why this last mountain will be so steep. Pete Carroll will have to marshal some will from his charges to fight their only remaining "true" opponent – themselves.
Once recruited as an athlete by USC and a bevy of other Division 1 programs, Stanback is exactly what is wrong with the UW. They are no longer a football team with goals of a bowl championship season, but merely a motley group of hounds fighting over the scraps tossed off a Pac Ten dining table set only for two. Much like ASU, holding open auditions for tailbacks, the Huskies have done what no other school was willing to do – put Stanback under center instead of out wide. And although the furry frocked fellow might bring a momentary spark to this lapdog of a team desperate for attention, any flame will certainly be fleeting. Right now he's all the Huskies have but from the distance this call sounds more like a lonely hound's howl in the dark of night, than anything menacing.
If worst became first, then the Huskies would rank number one on the Trojans' toughest competition list. Seven practice sessions from now until the end of the year and it begins with them. Seven opportunities to work on things within the program, staying healthy and mentally alert enough not to let a stray dog bite any harder than expected.
For Pete Carroll's Trojans, this is where routine becomes ritual and soon religion. All the practices, the pre-game prep, the drills, the execution from game-morning meal to walking down the Coliseum tunnel – it all has to be treated like the final steps of a lifelong journey. And each is no less important than any of the others.
If Stanback can somehow crack the whip and get his sled running, he could make a race of this first of seven stages against the Trojans. And if he does, he will be doing both his team and USC a favor. He'll build some pride in his team – the belief that they can compete and he'll keep the fire burning hot inside SC's hearts and minds.
Begin the finish. End the race like you started – hard and fast. That's how champions conduct themselves and that's how winners win. The Trojans have some ol' dogs of their own, that won't let their pack wilt in the final stretch – Groots, Patterson, Cody, Leach and Drake to name a few. It's the tough sledding time of year – where the snow gets deep and the legs grow weary. Time to dig in and push on.
It'll take the men just mentioned and a whole bunch more to make it to the finish, first. It's ten times harder to hold the lead as it is to bring up the rear. The Trojans are cutting a mighty path – already ahead statistically than last year's co-national champion squad - making it look tougher at times, but doing it better – better with each and every outing. Better than anybody else.
USC enters this weekend's challenge, this next stage in the last of seven, with momentum on their side but a heavy load – the goal of a national championship – in weighing down their sled. This is the hardest part of the race – the finish, but you don't hear a whimper or cry, not from these men. No, you get whoop and a shout, a narrowed eye on a distant prize and a gritty, well-worn smile.
They know, the race is theirs if they just fight on. The poor pups of the great Northwest are dog tired and hopefully won't do much more than watch the Trojan sled blast on by!
USC 55 UW 17