Former USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin. Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
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USC Football, while predicted to win this week, has had its share of failure over the years. Let’s warm our cold hearts by mainlining some pure, uncut Trojan failure.
Listen, as we’ve covered in depth on this site this week, the prospects for a UCLA victory over USC on Saturday are not great. But one bad season for the Bruins doesn’t negate the fact that USC is a poorly run clown show across town and has been for a few years now.
I wanted to feed the schadenfreude beast a little and revel in some of the pain that the Trojans have endured over the years. I make no apologies; I’m a stone-hearted, bitter golem sustained only by the burning fire of hathos deep within me. I hate USC beyond my capacity to understand the term.
It would be impossible to choose between UCLA victories over USC, as they are all precious babies whom I love equally. But there’s plenty of other Trojan misfortune to choose from. So here is my list (yours may vary somewhat) of the either greatest losses by USC since 2000 – non-UCLA edition.
Oct 27, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; California Golden Bears running back Tre Watson (5) runs against USC Trojans defensive end Christian Rector (89) in the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
The Trojans came into this game with a lot of momentum, ranked third in the nation and led by first-year starter Matt Leinart. This game doesn’t get the press that the 2004 tilt does, when both teams were ranked in the top 10 – but that one wouldn’t be eligible for this list since USC won.
No, in 2003, #3 USC faced Aaron Rodgers and an unranked Cal, fell behind 21-7, and had to kick a field goal with 16 seconds remaining to force overtime. After USC missed their field goal attempt in the third overtime, Cal hero Tyler Fredrickson stepped up and booted home the winner.
I remember this game because I had invited a couple of friends who were Cal fans to join me at the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s game against San Diego State that afternoon. We, along with everyone else in Lot K, were watching this game on a portable TV as we tailgated, but we had to turn it off to head in for kickoff as they headed into overtime up in Berkeley. While I’m sure I’d experienced it before, this was the first time I remember that a live USC score was posted in the Rose Bowl during a UCLA game, and when the final was posted on the video boards, the place erupted louder than it would any time later that evening.
Nov 5, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) looks on before the start of the second half against North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 48-20. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
USC started 2012 as the preseason #1 and managed to lose to Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, and Notre Dame en route to a 7-5 regular season record, the worst showing ever by a preseason #1 ranked team. To emphasize, this 2012 USC team was the biggest bust of all time.
Georgia Tech came into this game at 6-7 after stumbling into the ACC Championship Game at 6-6 and then losing to Florida State. This was not like the 2009 or 2014 Georgia Tech teams that finished 11-3. This was a thoroughly mediocre outfit that managed to rush for 300 yards against a USC defense anchored by Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams.
The Trojans capped off their dream season with a brawl in the locker room after the game when a reported 10-15 players got embroiled in a full-on donnybrook over frustrations about coaching and about effort from senior players.
From first place to fisticuffs, this season was the gift that kept on giving.
Nov 5, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston College Eagles quarterback Patrick Towles (8) takes a snap at the line of scrimmage during the third quarter against the Louisville Cardinals at Alumni Stadium. The Louisville Cardinals won 52-7. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Stop me if this sounds familiar, but a top-10 ranked USC faces an unranked foe and completely embarrasses itself. This time, despite posting a 17-6 lead early, the #9 Trojans allowed 452 rushing yards to Boston College. The game was over when BC quarterback Tyler Murphy (who rushed for 191 yards on the night) broke off a 66-yard touchdown run with three minutes to go, putting the game out of reach.
The extra relish that makes this one so fun is that ‘Tailback U,’ despite giving up 450+ yards on the ground, was only able to rush for 20. Twenty! For reference:
It would take the Trojans FIVE GAMES at this pace to rush the length of the football field.
The Trojans couldn’t manage to rush even half the width of the field.
If they started at home plate in a baseball diamond and lined up their rushing yards towards center field, they would run out of gas six inches short of the pitcher’s mound. USC essentially rushed for the equivalent of a bunt.
It’s enough to make OJ Simpson roll over in his gra- er…cell bunk.
Oct 1, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) throws the ball during the first half against the Southern California Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin entered 2013 on thin ice after the debacle of 2012, childishly refusing to face the media after losing to UCLA, and overseeing the circus that was the Sun Bowl experience. Heading into Arizona State, the Trojans had already dropped one to a bad Washington State team, and there was talk that Kiffin might not last the season.
Well, it became evident in the third quarter that Kiffin wasn’t going to survive the night, when the Sun Devils hung 28 straight points on USC, and Kiffin stood on the sideline, eyes glazed over like a baby messing his diaper.
Thankfully, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden was a paragon of class and decorum, and he would never fire a coach in a way that robbed him of his remaining dignity. Oh, wait! Nevermind. Kiffin was reportedly called off of the team bus back at LAX, fired on the tarmac, and then left there to arrange his own ride home at 2am. *sad trombone*
Sep 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) runs for a touchdown past USC Trojans defensive back Chris Hawkins (4) during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
For this game, there’s no trick, no special hook that makes it memorable. USC straight got their ass handed to them by what is proving to be one of the most dominant college football teams of all time. So while the Trojans did have a player ejected, and there were some grumblings from the players that the coaches hadn’t prepared them to face the Crimson Tide, there really isn’t any particular shame in losing this game.
There remains, though, an undeniable satisfaction in watching USC get pantsed on national television in prime time. This has been a mediocre program for years now, and it’s rewarding to see them exposed as such before a national audience.
Sep 17, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Ryan Burns (17) throws a pass during a NCAA football game against the USC Trojans at Stanford Stadium. Stanford defeated USC 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Because Vegas is not in the habit of giving out official lines on games between FBS and FCS opponents (sorry, Appalachian State), this loss I believe still ranks as the single largest upset by point spread in college football history.
Number 2 USC hosted a Stanford team which was coming off of a 1-11 season, and the Trojans were favored by something like 42 points. New Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Tavita Pritchard somehow navigated the game and pulled off the stunner.
I was out at what was then the UCLA bar in Washington, DC, the Ugly Mug, which was packed with Bruin fans. As Stanford clawed its way back into the game with USC, the focus of the room definitely shifted to that TV, and we prevailed upon the bartender to shift the sound feed to that game. When Pritchard hit Mark Bradford for the go ahead score in the final minute, the roar in that bar was deafening. We no longer knew nor cared what was happening on the other TV in the waning twilight of Karl Dorrell‘s UCLA tenure. USC had been slain, and our hero was an intense yelling man named Harbaugh.
You knew this game had to appear on a list like this. The complicating factor, though, is that it’s hard to make fun of a team for going wire-to-wire ranked #1 only to lose by 3 in the championship game to one of the all time great players in the sport.
That said, this game is on the short list of the best games of all time, and USC was on the losing end. I still wear the burnt orange polo shirt I bought to wear while watching this game.
This really marked the end of Pete Carroll‘s mini-run atop the sport. Every year after this until he skipped town, USC was derailed by one or two losses to lesser teams that prevented the Trojans from contending for a title. There had been so much hype going into this game about whether USC was the best team ever and about where the Trojan dynasty fit into the history of the sport.
And with one QB scramble, Vince Young just said, ‘Stop it!’
The single biggest loss USC has taken in my lifetime is when the NCAA denied Pat Haden’s appeal of the Pete Carroll-era sanctions. It’s a permanent reminder that USC’s biggest run of success in 40 years was built on cheating, lies, and fraud – and it’s all been vacated. The official record books will forever list the football champions during Pete Carroll’s tenure as:
2001 – Miami
2002 – Ohio State
2003 – LSU
2004 – vacated
2005 – Texas
2006 – Florida
2007 – LSU
2008 – Florida
2009 – Alabama
Shouldn’t a dynasty win at least one championship?
Despite all the turmoil caused by Carroll’s casual disregard for the rules and for the consequences that his malfeasance would have on the school and the players after he left, the Trojans just can’t help themselves. Like a dog returning to eat its own vomit, USC just can’t stay away. The university gave Pete Carroll an honorary doctorate just last year!