“The Trojans are officially back”, many say as they watch Adoree Jackson covering receivers, Su’a Cravens blitzing off the edge, and Heisman candidate Cody Kessler throwing deep to JuJu Smith for touchdowns. Despite the success this offseason something is in the air…. Something the Trojans have seen before and are reminded of.
“Unfinished Business” was the hit of the 2012 season, as Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior year. The men of Troy returned their star quarterback and had a team of playmakers as USC’s aimed for the national title. Unfortunately, that business remained unfinished and out of reach as the Trojans went 7-6 (5-4 in conference) and were humiliated by Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, 21-7. Lane Kiffin was fired shortly after and once again the Trojans sat there wondering what was the next step. Fast-forward three years from then and Kessler is back for his senior year, looking to finish what Barkley and Kiffin couldn’t.
Kessler returns to the Trojans with second year head coach Steve Sarkisian and one common goal: win the Pac-12 conference and college football playoff. Kessler is no stranger to adversity as he watched from the sideline Barkley and the Trojans’ 2012 season burst into flames. He witnessed the locker room arguments, the pointing fingers, and most importantly a group of confident players turn into embarrassed ones. Kessler reminisces on how his teammates were hungry to win after many doubted them being contenders and thought they couldn’t hang with the competition.
“Being Preseason No.1 got to us. Some of the guys, instead of being a team, started to become individuals, doing their own thing”, Kessler states when asked about the 2012 season. He realizes the mistakes they made as a group and doesn’t want this 2015 Trojan team to go down the same road. Kessler and the Trojans see all the hype they’re given and the praises, but the Trojans remain humble waiting to take the field. “The biggest thing we’ve emphasized is finishing games”, Kessler stated. You might remember that the end of games were the Trojans “Achilles Heel’ last year, taking last second losses to Arizona St. on a Hail Mary and Utah on the last play of the game. If the Trojans could’ve finished, their record would’ve been 11-2 instead of 9-4.
The Trojans know it will take discipline, physicality, and outworking their opponents if they want to become a successful football team. As far as the culture, Sarkisian and staff havs done a great job at making practice a competitive environment. “It’s been up and down. It’s been a long journey. It hasn’t all been perfect”, said Kessler. The Trojans will have to be a team instead of a group of individuals that play together. Most importantly, the Trojans will have to overcome and don’t believe their own hype.