After folding down the stretch in 2010, there were a lot of "I told you so's" going around the college football world. The idea that Lane Kiffin could simply pick up where Pete Carroll left off had gone out the window. 2011 started in a similar way as the Trojans got off to a slow start. They won their first three games but weren't particularly impressive. Game four was possibly the low point of the season when they got ambushed by the Sun Devils of Arizona State 43-22. After that loss, USC bounced back with a seven point win over lowly Arizona, a 21 point win over Cal and a 14 point win over the Golden Domers. Sitting at 6-1, the Trojans had a great record but not a lot of respect Nationally heading into the Stanford game.
USC went into Stanford and lost a close, hard fought game 56-48 in triple overtime when USC fumbled the ball out of the end zone. Despite losing this game, it was probably the turning point of the Trojans season. From that point on, the Trojans played their best football. They rolled Colorado and Washington as they headed to Oregon to play to play the #4 team in the country. What happened next was USC proved that they belonged with the big boys of college football. The Trojans finished off the season by curb stomping a UCLA team that would represent the Pac-12 South in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game by the score of 50-0. USC went 10-2 in 2011 and despite being on probation they have set themselves up for a chance to make a run next year (when they are once again bowl eligible) at not only the Pac-12 Championship but maybe more. We caught up with the USC based site The Trojan Empire to get their take on the 2011 season and get a quick sneak peak into 2012.
CFBZ: USC got better and better as the season progressed. What do you attribute their continued improved to?
The Trojan Empire: When the 2011 season began, people saw the USC brand, without taking a good look at the roster. It replaced 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line. 2 of 3 linebackers were freshmen, along with both tight ends. The receiver playing opposite sophomore Robert Woods was true freshman Marqise Lee. Time allowed youth to mature and gel, and the difference is clearly visible when comparing the season's beginning to end.
CFBZ: After two years, what are your thoughts on Lane Kiffin?
The Trojan Empire: Lane Kiffin has done a great job, considering the hand he was dealt. I admit to cursing him for some decisions made, but I also applaud him for learning and not repeating errors. I think the team feeds off of his arrogance, just as Stanford did under Jim Harbaugh. And though it's the head coach credited for wins and losses, we must remember that Kiffin has a great staff working beneath him. One of the best hires made in college football over the past two seasons was Kiffin bringing special teams coach John Baxter from Fresno State to USC. It's an under the radar acquisition, but the impact has been tremendous, and the difference between USC winning or losing several games.
CFBZ: If you could have a "do over" for any game which would it be?
The Trojan Empire: This is easily the game against Arizona State, which was the first road game of the season. The Trojans committed 4 turnovers in that hostile environment, denying themselves any opportunity to win. Stanford was an overtime thriller against a top-10 team, ultimately decided by one bad bounce. But the loss to the Sun Devils was inexcusable, and would have never occurred without the Trojans assisting their opponent. Watching Arizona State get humiliated in its bowl game, the one question most commonly asked was---"How did this team beat USC?"
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
The Trojan Empire: The lasting memory will be a team that held together and conquered in the face of adversity. These kids broke no rules, yet they were punished. They were penalized for the actions of those that came before them. Through it all, they did not bend or break. They did not selfishly surrender team for individualism. They stood together as a unit and continued to compete each week. The NCAA made it impossible for USC to be named Pac 12 South Champion, yet you cannot talk about the division champ without the mention of USC. The NCAA disallowed a conference championship and BCS bowl appearance, yet you could not watch Oregon play in the Rose Bowl without the constant mention of USC. The team did what it set out to do, delivering a statement to the NCAA and college football that it is still here. It was a season without awards, but a season I will never forget.
CFBZ: USC is getting a lot of early 2012 love in the "Pre-Season Polls". What areas do USC need to shore up if they want to contend for a National Championship?
The Trojan Empire: I'm not a fan of predictions in January, because you still don't know what a program is bringing to the table in September. The schedule is set up favorably for the Trojans to make a National Championship run, but the greatest issue will be depth on the roster. This is the first year that USC will be impacted by scholarship reductions, so though they are set at most positions, there isn't much experience behind them. Injuries are part of the game, as well as transfers and academic ineligibles. These are unpredictable elements, and things that can make or break a season. One major issue is replacing Matt Kalil at left tackle. USC has had the luxury of plugging in another star to replace All-American tackles, but it will take time for the new feet to find comfort in those shoes. How quickly this new player can adapt may ultimately determine Matt Barkley's season as a passer.
CFBZ: Bonus Question: Out of all the new Head Coaching hires in the Pac-12, what team do you think made the best hire?
The Trojan Empire: I would say Mike Leach at Washington State. I don't expect the Cougars to win the Pac 12 or National Championships, but Leach, despite WSU's lack of recruiting lure, can lift this doormat to respectability. With new coaches in 2012, I'm not expecting much change to come at UCLA, Arizona, or Arizona State.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big 12- Kansas Jayhawks