Is the loss to Stanford the end? Is it the beginning of the end?
In the aftermath of the loss to Stanford, ESPN published an article by Mark Schlabach, in which he wrote: "The Trojans are a football dynasty no more, thanks to the smart kids from Stanford..."
Others are less dramatic, but it's clear that various professional writers are acknowledging that the old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be, over the course of last season and this season. Say what you will about Plaschke, but these are fair observations:
A Pete Carroll-coached team that has been penalized more yards than anyone in the Pac-10? A Carroll team that is tied for last in the conference in sacks?
When is the last time Carroll's defense ranked last in the conference in takeaways? When is the last time that defense tied for last in giving up fourth-down conversions?
As Trojans fans know, this malaise didn't just start with Stanford.
I'll start out by saying that the notion that the dynasty is over is a load of crap. Leaving aside the hazardous question of what constitutes a dynasty in a season where the alleged parity of college football has actually appeared two weekends in row (two!), it's extraordinarily unlikely that everything has come crashing down and the remaining games will be a washout. But there are problems, there's no question about that.
The difficulty in prognostication, of course, is trying to work out just how bad the damage is and whether a quick recovery is possible - something which all of us here on CC have been hashing out over the last several days. Looking at it from the player standpoint: On the one hand, you've got a QB who just isn't quite fitting in the system, wide receivers who can't drop the ball, offensive line back-ups who don't know the schemes, etc., etc. On the other, you've got an emerging young QB to watch this weekend, there have been injuries galore that have taken some guys out for a short period of time, and you never know when players are going to hit their stride.
Looking at it from the coaching standpoint, you do have to wonder a bit. Sarkisian was pretty frank about the shortcomings of his play-calling. Paragon has mentioned his concerns about Ruel's O-line coaching this season. Carroll seems a bit lost. There's no one person responsible for special teams, and so on.
For what it's worth, I think that the most interesting take I've seen thus far - and this is no surprise, comes from SMQ. I'm not going to quote his post here because it really merits being read in its entirety. He makes a comparison between Miami and USC - calm down, Bruins loyalists, it's not a side-by-side of the rap sheets - to look at the abrupt transition from top of the heap to just a heap. What makes the article - aside from the crazy idea of using some data and trends - is that SMQ acknowledges the limited predictive power of reasoning by analogy. In this case, he suggests that coaching and execution issues may be overcome by the players in waiting at SC; classes like the last 2 or 3 are unusual enough that it's hard to tell how they'll turn out.
Speaking of analogies, Scott Wolf returns to the Caesar nickname for Pete Carroll in reference to a Warren Bennis article from CIO Insight magazine (a contradiction in terms, surely?). The point of the argument is not that, to quote Wolf, "Julius Caesar never lost to Ptolemy XII of Alexandria so Peter C. Carroll should never lose to Jim Harbaugh of Palo Alto," the point is that Caesar was undone by his unwillingness to listen to others, which cut him off from usual information - information like "several Senators intend to perforate you with extreme prejudice." Bennis' point is worth thinking about in the light of the quote about Pete Carroll's coaching post mortem:
"It was an open forum," Carroll said.
Of course, Carroll being Carroll, he did most of the talking about the Trojans' 24-23 loss to Stanford despite being a 41-point favorite.
"I pretty much led the whole thing," Carroll said.
Some might say that is one of the problems, that Carroll micromanages too much, but his staff said his input is valuable because he's been through these situations before.
What interests me is the balance of listening - did anyone push back, make observations, tell Pete Carroll something that he hadn't thought of? I don't know, and it might not matter. But there's little room for error if USC wants to make something of the season, and innovation never hurts when your opposition can predict what you are going to do, and knows how to defend against you.
In any case, we can but see how the next few games shake out. I'm not going to be cavalier and suggest that Arizona and Notre Dame are good "tune up" games, because that's what I said about Stanford, and the success is there to be seen.
Since that's going to free up some time, I plan to spend some time effort trying to come up with the best "fading empire" analogy that I can, just in case things don't go well. I'd been thinking about that the other day - supposing SC is in decline, which empire / dynasty does it most resemble? I spent some time thinking about the Roman Empire and the British empire, and even the post-WWII Pax Americana, as we used to call it. It's not the Incans, because they didn't have the wheels to fall off the wagon.
However, I realized I was going in the wrong direction with all of those, and that's because of a memory of the 2003 game against Auburn. At the time, I remember watching and thinking that the Barners looked stunned, like some mysterious cardinal horde had arrived from the west and sacked their temple. While comparing Jordan-Hare to medieval Baghdad may be a stretch, that's where I got the notion that the USC team of the last several years is like the Mongol Empire set up by Genghis Khan - the result of several years of relentless movement and thorough sackings. The Mongol empire was administered in a broadly meritocratic fashion rather than the usual influence peddling and whatnot, but it fell apart more quickly than others as well.
Obviously it's not a perfect metaphor - not enough children fathered by the great leader, despite Leinart's best efforts, and that's just one flaw. Still, it'll be something to consider if the shit hits the fan during the Arizona game.
And it's no sillier than decreeing that the sky is fallen, the end is nigh, and nothing will ever be good again... Not that anyone here would do that, but then we aren't getting paid per pageviews.