When you’re used to going to BCS bowls and being in the national title contention, a 9-4 season can come off as a disappointment. That disappointment can be compounded when a team loses its head coach to the NFL and when NCAA sanctions can be forthcoming. USC did not win at least a share of the Pac-10 championship for the first time since 2001 this year. Their streak of seven straight conference titles was one of the most impressive feats in college football history. Ultimately, they could not overcome the fact they were replacing a long-time starting quarterback with a freshman. It also hurt that the rest of the Pac-10 conference got better.
The overall statistics were still quite good, however, Quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 2,735 yards as a freshman and added 15 touchdowns. Running back Joe McKnight, who has already declared for the NFL draft, ran for 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns before sitting out the bowl game because of a potential NCAA violation. Senior receiver Damian Williams also had a stellar season, nabbing 70 receptions for 1,010 yards and six touchdowns. Williams is also headed to the draft, meaning that there could be even more problems in USC’s future.
The season did start out with the usual promise as Southern Cal cruised in its opener ovr San JoseState 56-3. Next up was a big road trip to eventual Big Ten champion OhioState. Many people thought this game would be a Rose Bowl preview. While it wasn’t the blowout that USC had over the Buckeyes a year earlier, The Trojans came away with a solid 18-15 win on a late Stafon Johnson touchdown. Barkley turned many heads by directing the 14 play, 86 yard game winning drive. Unfortunately, that would be the high point of USC’s season.
The downfall began the following week at Washington when the Huskies, who were 0-12 just a season before, shocked the college football world with a 16-13 victory over the third ranked Trojans. It appeared to be the typical mid-season gaffe that had defined the last few seasons of USC football. The Trojans followed that loss up with convincing wins over WashingtonState (27-6), California (30-3), Notre Dame (34-27), and Oregon State (42-36). That set up the biggest Pac-10 game of the season when USC traveled to Autzen Stadium to face Oregon.
In that game, Oregon announced that USC’s dominance had ended. The Ducks pounded the Trojans 47-20. USC was never the same after that. They beat ArizonaState in a lackluster 14-9 contest before losing 55-21 at home to Stanford. A 28-7 rivalry win over UCLA followed, but the Trojans suffered a fourth Pac-10 loss to Arizona 21-17. The four losses in conference play were more than USC had suffered in the previous three seasons combined. Southern Cal managed to save a little face by beating Boston College 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl, but that victory did very little to salve their ego. Since Pete Carroll left the team shortly thereafter this team’s future is very much up in the air.