There can be no comparison between where we are now and where we have been at any point in our recent history. Two years ago on New Year's Eve the Trojans were coming off a last place finish in the Pac-10, the first time that had ever happened to a USC team, while last year at this time we were still stinging from the lackluster performance in a bowl loss to Utah. Needless to say, things have picked up since then.
When a program goes through a dry spell such as the one we experienced the only measure of proof becomes the performance and results on the field. There were many times we would put together a mediocre season but would still be able to point with pride to the performance of a few select players or an isolated big win. The standards set by Trojans past made it hard to accept the realities of so many average seasons but we did the best we could to find the silver linings and focus on the positive. Even in this past off-season there was a lot of cause for optimism yet we had heard the party line before and most Trojan fans were waiting to see it on the field before believing that the worm had turned.
We have a coach in Pete Carroll who set the bar high and challenged the players to rise to the occasion. While some coaches in the past have shied away from the rich history and tradition that comes with USC football Carroll seemed to embrace it and worked feverishly to regain our rightful status among the elite programs in college football. In all fairness, however, at this point last year we still were not 100% certain what we had in Carroll. His energy and defensive prowess were beyond question yet for all the excitement he generated there was still the fact that we finished 6-6 in his opening season as our coach. No matter how many times we saw flashes of brilliance from the team in spring ball, no matter how many pretty Palmer touchdowns or thrashing Fargas runs, there was always the thought in the back of the mind that, yes, we can always look good in the spring but we had been fooled by those thoughts before and it was time to see it translate to the field.
Well, after what we saw this season it's safe to say that the results speak for themselves. It's not a stretch to say that this has been one of the more impressive single season showings in USC football history. The program will need to sustain itself for a period of time before it is compared with some of the great eras of the past but in terms of what was accomplished in one year this has been very special. A Heisman winning quarterback, victories over UCLA and Notre Dame, a dominating stretch down the final half of the season, major improvement in the running game and offensive line, a defensive line group that has been simply marvelous and a headhunter at safety with dreadlocks flowing out of the back of his helmet.
The future also looks bright when considering the impact made by the underclassmen including a freshman class with several potential stars. We all know how much this senior class has meant to the rebirth of Trojan football and the opportunity for the younger players to learn from the integrity and work ethic of the older players should pay dividends in future years.
We've had to deal with rumors of other teams casting a glance at our coaching staff but that is a problem that comes with winning and it's a small price to pay for success. The good news is that Pete Carroll is well aware of the importance of his assistant coaches and, if some of them should leave for various other spots, Carroll has shown the ability to fill any holes with solid replacements. The BCS check should help line the pockets as an incentive to stay and at this point the members of the staff are also well aware of what is possible here at USC in the near future and the opportunity to win a national championship is a high priority for any coach in this business.
For those who haven't been paying attention to the happenings at Troy the Orange Bowl will give them a chance to see for themselves what has transpired this year. The Trojans will take the field as a confident and prepared group of football players who play with passion and intensity. They mirror a head coach who brings the enthusiasm of an elementary school youngster gathering his friends together for a game of flag football on the playground. Football is fun again at USC and it has been a joy to watch the transformation.
The state of the program is good right now with a bright future for all involved. Let's sit back and enjoy the Orange Bowl on Thursday with the satisfying appreciation of the work it took to get back to this point.