Welcome to the tenth edition of The Figgis Forum, a fan-driven season preview for each Pac-12 team. What? We’re already in week three of the season? I guess this little road trip around the conference had a stall, but we’re back at it now! This time around we aren’t heading too far from Westwood as we just need to make our way across Los Angeles to the school that everyone loves to hate; the USC Trojans.
All-Time Record: 826-335-54 (.702%)
National Championships: 10
Conference Championships: 38
Bowl Games: 53
Bowl Record: 34-17 (.667%)
Consensus All-Americans: 81
NFL Draft Picks: 502
1st Round Draft Picks: 80
Weeks in AP Poll: 752
Weeks at #1: 91
All-Time Record: 38-20
Longest Win Streak: 8 Games (1920-1938)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 Games (1998-2001)
Largest Margin of Victory: 53-0 (1931)
Largest Margin of Defeat: 0-34 (1915)
Last Meeting: 2016 (W 45-20)
Everyone knows that USC has been very good for a very long time and are one of the most historically successful teams in all of college football. They have the fourth most national championships with 10 (technically 11 but 2005 was vacated), obviously most of any school in the Pac-12 though Washington probably claims more. They also rank fourth in the nation with 38 conference championships, but it has been almost a decade since they won their last title. They rank second in the nation with 53 bowl game appearances, tenth with 826 all-time wins, third with 81 consensus All-Americans, third with six Heisman winners (Reggie Bush was their seventh), first with 502 NFL draft picks, first with 80 first round NFL draft picks, sixth with 752 weeks in the AP poll and fifth with 91 weeks at number one in the AP poll. They also have a winning record against every single team in the Pac-12 and Big-10 (with the exception of Michigan State with whom they have an even 4-4 record). The last insane statistic is that they have had just 12 losing season in the past CENTURY. Washington State has had that many in the past 18 years! Hell, the Beavers more than doubled that tally when they endured 28 consecutive losing seasons from 1971 to 1998.
Where to begin with the list of USC head coaches? How about the formation of the PCC in 1922 which happened to be their first Rose Bowl victory after a 10-1 season under Coach Gus Henderson. During his six years coaching the Trojans (three within the PCC), Henderson tallied a 45-7 overall record and then left to coach at Tulsa. The next head coach, Howard Jones, elevated the Trojans to a national powerhouse. During his 16 years running the program, USC claimed seven conference titles, won five Rose Bowls and were crowned National Champions four times. In the summer of 1941, Jones had a heart attack and passed away. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame ten years later. For the 1941 season, assistant Sam Barry was promoted to be the next head coach while simultaneously coaching the basketball and baseball teams. Barry lasted just one season as he opted to leave the program to serve in the Navy in 1942. He returned to a role as an assistant in 1945.
Upon departing for the Navy, Barry recommended Jeff Cravath for the head coaching position and Cravath became USC’s first alumnus to lead the football program. His nine years as head coach were mostly successful as he compiled a 74-43-9 record with four conference titles and four Rose Bowl appearances (two victories). After the last Rose Bowl appearance in 1947, things began trending downward as the team went 6-3-1, 5-3-1 and 2-5-2 over the next three years. After the sub-.500 finish in 1950, Cravath was forced to resign and was replaced by one of his assistants, Jess Hill. Hill led the football team for six seasons before stepping down to become the school’s Athletic Director in 1957. He finished with a record of 45-17-1 with one conference championship and a Rose Bowl victory in 1952.
USC’s next head coach, Don Clark, lasted just three seasons after tallying a 13-16-1 record. In his last season in 1959, he had John McKay and Al Davis on his coaching staff. McKay would succeed him as the new head coach for the 1960 season. Years prior, John McKay was the starting halfback for the Oregon team that was supposed to go to the 1949 Rose Bowl, but was denied a bid after Washington convinced Montana to vote for Cal instead of the Ducks. In his first two years coaching the Trojans, McKay’s teams struggled, going 4-6 and 4-5-1 in 1960 and 1961 respectively. After that, he cemented his legacy as one of USC greatest coaches of all time by winning nine conference titles and five Rose Bowls among eight appearances with an overall record of 127-40-8 between 1960 and 1975. After the 1975 season, McKay was lured to the NFL to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
To succeed John McKay, USC hired another former Duck player, John Robinson. Robinson led the Trojans in two stints separated by period in which he was the head coach for the LA Rams. In his first stint at USC from 1976 to 1982, Robinson won three conference titles along with three Rose Bowl victories and one national title in 1978. His second stint lasted from 1993 to 1997 and included two more conference titles and one Rose Bowl victory. During Robinson’s hiatus to coach the Rams, USC ran through two head coaches, Ted Tollner (1983-1986) and Larry Smith (1987-1992). They combined for four conference titles and two Rose Bowl victories. After Robinson’s second stint as head coach ended in 1997, USC hired Paul Hackett as their head coach, though he did not last long. In each of his three seasons, USC’s win total decreased and Hackett was fired following a 5-7 finish in 2000.
For the 2001 season, USC had to dip down to their fourth choice to finally hire a head coach. After preferred choices Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley stuck with their programs, USC chose to hire a man who drew many criticisms from fans and media due to his lack of success coaching in the NFL. That man was Pete Carroll. Criticisms continued as USC started the 2001 season 2-5 and finished at 6-6. After that, the Trojans began a stretch as one of the most dominant teams in the nation. Carroll Led USC to seven consecutive conference titles, five Rose Bowl appearances (four victories), two national titles and one major scandal en route to a 97-19 overall record. NCAA sanctions vacated the last two wins from 2004, all 12 wins from 2005 and prohibited USC from playing in a bowl game for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. As the scandal arose after the 2009 season, Carroll bolted for the NFL to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
After Carroll’s departure, sanctions crippled the program and USC struggled to meet expectations. Lane Kiffin was hired to replace Carroll for the 2010 season and only lasted three full years. In 2012 he took a loaded Trojans team from a preseason #1 ranking, to unranked with a 7-6 finish. The next season he was famously fired on the LAX tarmac after an embarrassing 62-41 loss to Arizona State. Assistant Ed Orgeron took over and led the team to a strong 6-2 finish. He resigned after USC announced the hiring of Steve Sarkisian as the head coach for the 2014 season. Clay Helton became the interim head coach for their 2013 bowl victory and then returned to his assistant position under Sarkisian. Sark managed just one complete season in 2014 before taking a leave of absence and subsequently being fired mid-way through the 2015 season after not showing up for a scheduled practice and reports that he was drunk during a game against Arizona State. USC again named Clay Helton as the interim head coach and was named the permanent head coach by the end of the 2015 season.
In his first full season last year, the Trojans stumbled out of the gates with a 1-3 record and then regrouped after a QB change and won their final nine games of the season, including a thrilling victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. So far this year, Helton has the Trojans at 3-0 and ranked in the top-5, though only time will tell if they can maintain their momentum from last season or if they will falter down the stretch.
Fan Q & A
For the following section, I would like to thank Brendan from Conquest Chronicles for taking the time to answer my questions and give his perspective on the upcoming season.
What win total would constitute a successful season? What bowl game?
11 wins and up would constitute a successful season, USC brings back star Sam Darnold and a very impressive team and they’ve been ranked top 5 in many preseason polls. USC fans would be happy to see a playoff game (and potential championship) or another rose bowl.
What win total would constitute a failed season? What bowl game?
I think ten or below would be a failure. That would mean they had three or more losses on the year and given the talent and experience on the roster it’d be disappointing to see. If they didn’t make either the playoff or rose bowl that would be disappointing.
What are you most optimistic about this coming season?
I am most optimistic about the passing game, Darnold has the potential to win the heisman and Trojans have young talented receivers ready to prove themselves.
What are you most apprehensive about this season?
I’m nervous on the production of the offensive line, they lost three starters and remaining starters are recovering from injuries.
What do you expect to be the toughest game?
While it’s subject to change throughout the season, I’d say right now the toughest game is at home against Stanford. While they lose McCaffrey and Thomas, they are always a tough, physical game (plus that guy Bryce Love looks pretty good) and I fully expect another battle come week two.
What could be a potential trap game?
I think at Arizona state is a big trap game. While ASU does not have high expectations for this season, they are still a very talented team. They have recruited well and are very young. Give a young, talented team at home some momentum against one of the best teams in the country and anything can happen. Plus the game is scheduled the week after visiting Notre Dame, and this Trojan team could make the mistake of looking ahead to at Colorado or vs UCLA.
Are there any injury or depth concerns heading into the season?
One depth concern is at O-line, USC is very thin there and have multiple players recovering from surgeries. Should another injury occur during the season it may be detrimental.
Who do you think will win each division?
May look somewhat bias but I think USC will win the South division. I also think Washington (tough choice over Stanford) will win the North division.
Who will come in last in each division?
I have Arizona at the bottom of the South Division and California in the bottom of the North Division.
How do you think your in-state rival will finish?
As far as in state rivals I’ll include both Cal and UCLA. With Rosen now back I expect UCLA to really improve, however I think they’re the third best team in the South division (lost a lot on defense). I think the coaching change and departure of key players will hurt Cal this year, and you’ll see growing pains throughout the season. I have them predicted to finish last. I think both teams are talented but find themselves a little behind in a very competitive conference. I think we’ll see UCLA in a good bowl game and Cal with 6 wins.
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