I don't remember a lot of talk about national championships when I was a kid. USC had a shot in 1952, but when they won the championship in 1962 it was a complete surprise to me. John McKay was on the hot seat the year before. No one was sure what kind of coach he was going to be. Then USC won a national championship that was to be the first of four under McKay.
Every year USC has a brand new team. Every year they face a new set of challenges. And every year those challenges change as a team proceeds through spring practice, fall practice and then into the season. Sometimes those challenges surprise you.
USC faced a major challenge in 2009 before spring practice ever started with quarterback Mark Sanchez letting go of his last year of eligibility and taking a great opportunity in the NFL Draft. USC also faced the challenge of losing 4 top flight senior linebackers, who are all now starting in the NFL. They lost a very good kicker as well with a big leg in David Buehler.
But maybe USC's biggest challenge was playing 6 very good opponents in their first 9 games in 2009 on the road. Playing Ohio State, Washington, Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon and Arizona State seemed like USC's toughest challenge since Pete Carroll really got the USC Trojans rolling 5 games into the 2002 season.
USC finished those 6 road games Saturday at ASU with a 4-2 record, and the Trojans are 7-2 for the 2009 season. USC's true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley has struggled some in his last two games and has fallen off dramatically in his last 6 quarters of play. USC experienced a tough three game stretch on defense but bounced back with a fine performance on Saturday holding ASU to just 9 points.
The Trojans have been worn down by the travel and the injuries. They have struggled with injuries and inexperience, but I think they have persevered though a very tough schedule, and I feel good about USC's final three games at home and the future of USC football.
I believe USC football has made an investment in 2009 that could pay big dividends the rest of this season and could lead to a great year in 2010 with Matt Barkley at the helm. If USC can beat Stanford on Saturday, and that is going to be a tough smash mouth football game, they will have a bye and a chance to heal and get some rest before they end the season playing UCLA and Arizona at home.
I took a long look at Stanford today, and they are a solid ball club from top to bottom. Running back Toby Gerhart is a terror, and Stanford managed to hold on to the ball almost 38 minutes on Saturday against Oregon's 22 minutes. Stanford was successful in running the ball last year against USC with over 200 yards in 43 carries.
Toby Gerhart broke off a long run against USC last year. USC will have to work hard to contain him, but they might be better equipped to do that with a stronger defensive line than Oregon's. Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck has been terrific all year and has given Stanford real balance on offense.
The Cardinal is 15th in the nation in rushing at 211 yards a game and 46th in passing at 232 yards a game. Stanford is 14th in total offense and 18th in total defense. They are a solid offensive team. They also lead the country in kickoff returns at 32 yards a return, while USC is 113th in kickoff coverage at 24.90.
USC will not be caught napping against Stanford. I believe Stanford did USC a favor in defeating Oregon Saturday. The Trojans know what they are up against. They should be able to contain Stanford some. But the Cardinal offense is going to score some points.
That means it is all about the USC offense on Saturday. They have got to perform like they did against Notre Dame and Oregon State. Stanford does not have a strong defense. The Cardinal are 60th in rush defense at 138.56 yards a game and 102nd in pass defense at 250.33 yards a game.
USC's offense must take advantage of Stanford's defense or the Trojans will not win the ball game on Saturday. There have been times this year when it didn't seem to matter who was playing on the other side of the USC offense. USC simply hasn't been able to execute. Matt Barkley has struggled at times hitting wide open receivers and wide open receivers have dropped passed that could have led to first downs or scores.
A delay of game penalty could have cost USC a touchdown pass to Brice Butler against ASU and tight ends Blake Ayles and Rhett Ellison have had some crucial drops. USC is not going to get away with that Saturday because Stanford is going to score some points. But I believe the Trojans are going to score some points as well.
Mark my words. There is no place like home. A week of rest and home cooking, and the friendly confines of the Coliseum are going to do the 2009 USC Trojans a world of good and I think we are going to see a big effort on Saturday.
The Trojans have traveled through some rough waters so far in 2009, but I believe they are going to end up on a peaceful shore with a strong finish to the season and a great springboard toward the 2010 season, a season with a favorable schedule and a veteran quarterback and defense to lead the way.
Matt Barkley and USC's offense will have to step up Staruday. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)