It finally starts today...
After what has been one of the most tumultuous off-seasons in college football history, the 2010 season finally starts today.
We can finally focus on football.
We can put the all the events of the off-season in the past.
Tonight we see how this USC team and staff have come together and how they will respond after being national punching bags for the past eight months.
As I have said at the start of every season...I don't really know what to expect. The previous four seasons always started with questions, I knew we had the talent but that talent didn't always perform as expected. Be it because of coaching (the whole 2009 season) or lack of drive (the loss to OSU in 2008) or just plain bad luck (a crappy polling and ranking system in 2008) 'SC always hit a stumbling block that took the season off course of playing for an MNC.
There is no point in reliving it because it is in the past.
The obstacles this years team faces are not of their own doing. This team has to pay the price because of the actions of one rogue player and an over zealous NCAA. The piling on from the haters, real or imagined, from the press or rival programs must be a lot to bear. But as has been noted before, this team has taken on an us against the world attitude.
I have no illusions...this team will lose some games this year. There are just too many obstacles in front of them. Injuries are the nature of the game and with our depth this season affected by future scholarship reductions and the NCAA's own version of "free agency" this team needs every player it can field.
It's not all bad news though...
We have one of the best coaching staff's in the country, we still have one of the most talented rosters in the country, even though it is a little thin and for the most part we have a fan base that has stood by the program from top to bottom.
We may disagree on some of the particulars, but the tone that I have seen across the USC centric boards/blogs is pretty much positive. I don't know how the season will shake out but I like that many see the glass half full.
Lane Kiffin is the key for this season to be a success. Kiffin seems more mature now, a little more secure in who he is after head coaching two difficult situations...
Lane Kiffin insists he won't be nervous.
Not today. Not after coaching the Oakland Raiders in the pressure cooker that is the NFL. Or at Tennessee in the football-mad Southeastern Conference.
USC's first-year coach knows there are questions about him and his team as the 14th-ranked Trojans enter their opener against Hawaii. But don't expect Kiffin to crumble under pregame anxiety.
Or even feel it.
"I don't get it anymore," he said.
Kiffin has been under fire in the past.
Some of it from his own doing, but what I took away from my time with him, he knows exactly what he is doing as well as what he NEEDS to do.
"I know I haven't done anything yet," Kiffin said. "I get it. I don't think you've done something by getting a job. I think you've done something by proving you can succeed at that job. Anybody can get a job, but what do you do when you have it?"
People will laugh and say that he hasn't done anything to deserve the head coaching positions he has had.
But the things he has done in his short time here at USC is shift in philosophy. He has taken an approach that the previous staff didn't in terms of discipline for actions both on and off the field. I think it will be hard for ANYONE to say that 'SC is a thug program after the way he addressed the actions of Dillon Baxter and Patric Hall. If you think Jordan Campbell or Malik Jackson left the team of their own free will you would be mistaken.
You may not have agreed with the Havili situation but that was a team coming together.
Kiffin will change the perceived culture at USC but he won't do it overnight.
Kiffin has treated this like a business and summer camp. He has pushed the players harder and in different ways than Pete Carroll did...
"This is probably the hardest camp that we have all been through since we’ve been here," said starting tailback Marc Tyler, a redshirt junior who spent three seasons playing under Coach Pete Carroll before 2010 under Kiffin. "The coaching staff has gotten us ready, and everybody is committed to going out there and showing everybody that ‘SC is still ‘SC. That’s what we’re going to do."
Going into the Thursday’s season opener at Hawaii, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley (Mater Dei) agreed with Tyler about the demands and intensity of fall camp under the first-year Kiffin regime.
"I say mentally, definitely, it (fall camp with Kiffin) was tougher than last year (under then-Coach Pete Carroll)," said Barkley. "We didn’t do as much hitting, not as much running as last year but the mental load they put on us this year seemed to challenge a lot of guys. I think that was really important for building us and making us a smarter football team."
Some laughed at that but the key to winning and being successful is mostly mental.
Because of the reduced depth on the roster Kiffin had to change strategy.
The one thing Kiffin can't and won't mess with is USC's swagger.
That IS NOT going away.
In the last three months, we've learned a few things about what the NCAA can and can't do to USC.
It can void the most memorable victories in a generation. It can snap its fingers and make 30 scholarships disappear. It can ban the Trojans from bowl games. By forcing them to erase Reggie Bush's records, it can even rob them of treasured memories.
But it can't touch this program's confidence, or at least the outward signs of it. USC's swagger could work like armor -- or it could be exposed as a flaky veneer...
So far, there have been no visible cracks in the Trojans' self-belief, but it's hard to tell if it's a false bravado.
We won't really know anything until the team actually plays its first series.
As, far I am concerned the team is playing with house money. No one expects much out of us after the off-season we just went through and there are many who are actively rooting against us...
Just more fuel for the fire if you ask me.