Back in late September a year ago, USC fell to Arizona State on the road. It was the first loss for the Trojans in the last 11 seasons to the Sun Devils.
The defense --- as had been criticized so often --- gave up 43 points and the offense sputtered for much of the night. USC put up 22 points altogether, but mustered just three field goals in the first half despite crossing the ASU 30-yard line four times.
Prior to this game, though, the Trojans had won three straight. They didn't look pretty doing it, but nonetheless, they were undefeated. They had handily beat Syracuse the week before, but had escaped against Utah and Minnesota.
Then-senior linebacker Chris Galippo said it best after the Arizona State game. For the first time that season, USC had been tested.
"Obviously, this was the first time we were really challenged," senior linebacker Chris Galippo said. "We were in a hostile environment and this was the first time we were really down and had to deal with adversity."
Many critics didn't know how the team would respond. Would the loss make or break them?
Fast forward almost one year and USC finds itself in almost a similar predicament.
For the first time all season, the Trojans were tested in Palo Alto. Victories against Hawai'i and Syracuse were supposed to be cakewalks --- at least on paper. They still managed to win, but they hardly looked impressive doing it.
Through these first three games, they've looked tight and uncertain at times. It's as if they're shouldering the load of all the lofty expectations bestowed upon them in the preseason.
Now many people are singing the same exact tune as last year. How will this team respond from such a devastating loss?
Looking back now, that game in Tempe proved to be beneficial for USC. That loss, in a way, transformed the team.
It won seven of its last eight games. The defense allowed an average of just 23 points during those last eight games of the season, while the offense put up an average of almost 41 points.
They went on the road as near double-digit underdogs to defeat Notre Dame. They went up to Autzen Stadium and stunned the Ducks. Finally, they punctuated their season with a 50-0 thrashing over crosstown rival UCLA.
They were playing for each other, they were having fun and they had that swagger back.
Now there is a similar storyline about to unfold, and it starts this weekend against Cal. Interestingly enough, it was the Trojans' 30-9 win over the Golden Bears last year that propelled USC in the right direction.
The Trojans have time to find themselves and they have time to make up ground in the polls. They have time to learn, grow and mature from the Stanford loss. They have time to rediscover that mojo again.
But it'll take one game at a time.