How Long Before USC Is USC?
Yeah, we're part of the problem ...
Completely and totally aware that I'm in the minority here (actually, I'm the only one who seems to believe this); I just don't think that the NCAA sanctions imposed on USC will bomb the program back to the Stone Age like everyone is assuming they will.
First of all, don't lump in what's happening to USC now with the sanctions Alabama and Miami were tagged with several seasons ago. The Tide and Canes were fine in the early 2000s, but they had other issues to deal with (like coaching concerns, and for Bama, the rise of the SEC). Those two programs were strong, but they weren't where USC is currently at (down year and all).
The 1995 "Lack of Institutional Control" tag put on Bama and the subsequent loss of scholarships stung, but the one year loss of scholarships didn't crush the program. In 2002, Bama was put on five years of probation for recruiting issues thanks to a slew of inducements given to high school coaches to steer players to Tuscaloosa, and scholarships were taken away from 2002-2003 to 2004-2005.
In 2005 Alabama went 10-2 and won the Cotton Bowl, and the subsequent mediocre seasons until the breakthrough 2008 campaign had as much to do with the Mike Shula coaching era, and with the reloading of some other SEC programs, as it did trying to ride out the sanctions storm. There was only one true clunker of a season, 2003, when Bama went 4-9, but the schedule was a brutal killer facing six teams that ended up with ten wins or more and 11 teams that finished with a winning record.
In 1995, Miami had a financial aid issue (which we now know was like Al Capone getting nailed for tax evasion) and the "Lack of Institutional Control" slap led to a three-year probation and a major reduction in scholarships from 1995-1996 to 1997-1998. Miami went 9-3 in 1996, 5-6 in 1997, 9-3 in 1998, and from late 1999 to the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State in 2003 went on a 39-1 run.
In other words, Alabama and Miami ended up being just fine, if not stronger with a renewed energy and an us-against-the-world, try-hard attitude.
Remember that USC isn't like other programs. Of course there are unrealistic expectations in Columbus, Gainesville, and Ann Arbor, but playing in L.A,. and with a different type of fan base to deal with, there's more of a professional atmosphere with the idea that being great isn't good enough when the plan is to win a championship. Yes, Pete Carroll always said the goal was to win the Pac 10 and go to the Rose Bowl, but he was pandering.
The goal for the Trojans, and was what was correctly sold to all the four and five-star recruits who flocked to the program, was to compete for the national title every year. The 2010 team wasn't going to do that.
It's not like the program was in a state of total disrepair, going 9-4 is hardly a disaster, but it needed a bit of a reboot. Even without the sanctions, USC was potentially Rose Bowl good, but it wasn't going to be BCS Championship good for the foreseeable future. USC was going to be fighting for Pac 10 titles, and before the hit was more likely to be fighting for the Holiday Bowl than for Pasadena. In other words, the punishment from the NCAA didn't likely cost the program any national titles.
USC didn't get hit with a TV ban, which would've been a true killer for recruiting, and it didn't get nailed with any sort of SMU-like death penalty. The program still has a heartbeat, and now Lane Kiffin and his terrific coaching and recruiting staff have a grace period where they can do no wrong (nothing will be considered their fault for the next three years). The pressure is off. However, now they have to tweak the sales pitch.
While Carroll promised every hotshot recruit a chance to come in and compete for a job right away for a team playing at the highest level in the land, Kiffin can REALLY sell the idea with the pitch geared towards developing a player into a top pro prospect, which is what recruits care about ten times more than going to a bowl game.
The next three recruiting classes might be light, but if Kiffin and his staff target the right guys, there won't be a fall-off-the-map drop in talent. Remember, the recruiting game is flaky (like anyone guessed that Florida was going to bring in an all-timer of a haul this year after Urban Meyer's health issues). USC is still USC, and most of the players who wanted to go there before will still want to go there now. The sun, the boobies, the TV exposure, the city, and the chance to be developed into a pro prospect haven't changed.
It helps that the Pac 10 didn't get Texas and Oklahoma. USC, sanctions and all, is still the big dog, it's still the only Pac 10 program anyone seems to care about on a national scale. The Trojans will lose their share of top recruits now, but they're more than likely to get their fair share as well.
The 2011 class will get a redshirt year to develop, a second year to season, a sophomore year to hit its stride, and then it's 2014 and rock and roll time again. Remember, it takes three years minimum to make a recruiting class, so if the goal is to be back in national title contention by ina few years (which probably should've been the goal even without the NCAA's slap on the hand), Kiffin and his staff can put together a nice base of core players now, and then sell the 2014 superstar, five-star difference makers on the idea of being the final pieces to the puzzle.
The bigger issue right away could be the possible defections. The juniors and seniors will preach loyalty to the program, but now that the NCAA has allowed for other schools to openly recruit USC upperclassmen, it's game on. Anyone needing a final piece of the puzzle will have an unprecedented free agent period to go shopping, and even if a few Trojans leave it'll be a big blow to the 2010 season.
There's no question that the NCAA has thrown a wet blanket on USC football for the next few years, but the truly great programs are quickly able to spin the adversity into a positive and come back roaring. In other words, if you were hoping that this would be the end of USC as you knew it, you'll probably be disappointed.
Longer than the program can tolerate, yet shorter than most are assuming.
Although the Trojans got whacked pretty hard by the NCAA a week ago, the sky isn't exactly falling over Troy. Even with reduced scholarships and an added hurdle on the recruiting trail, who has a better pool of talent in the Pac-10? Unless there are wholesale defections over the next month, USC will still have as many blue-chippers up and down the roster as anyone in the conference. Let's face it, even when wounded, no one on the West Coast is better at attracting next-level talent. No one.
The one thing that continues to be missed from all of the doomsayers is that the infractions could wind up being the best possible thing to happen to Lane Kiffin. Sure, there'll be no bowl games for two years, but the pressure, which was going to be suppressive, has almost completely been lifted. Now, instead of replacing legendary Pete Carroll, he's replacing a pariah who was at the controls when the program got into this mess. That's a fortuitous turn of events. Over the next couple of seasons, he's almost in a no-lose situation. If USC rolls through the regular season, he's a master motivator. If it treads water, hey, what did you expect considering the circumstances? Plus, don't think for a second that Kiffin won't deftly use this mess as a chance to build up the kid's psyche with an us-against-the-world mentality. No one is quite sure if he can win at a high level, but he absolutely can sell, and he'll have this team feeling like an unfairly treated victim at every possible chance.
By the time USC is eligible for the postseason in 2012, Kiffin will have whipped his kids into a state of frenzy, just itching for an opportunity to exact revenge on anyone and everyone. Oh, and whoever he recruits today or next year will hardly feel the pain of the penalties.
No matter what, it looked as if the Trojans were going to be a little down in the short-term. Now, it's assured. They'll use the next couple of seasons to regroup and channel their energy, fueled by an entirely different motivation.
There are several variables in play and too many unknowns to know what direction USC might go.
Who will be the replacement for Mike Garrett as athletic director? (Garrett should have been fired within nanoseconds of the NCAA penalty. Shame, shame.) When will running backs coach Todd McNair be fired? (He should have been fired before Garrett.) Will USC get a big recruiting haul in 2011? Will the Pac-12 become the Pac-16 by 2012 or 2013? Will Lane Kiffin be Lane Kiffin? Will Lane Kiffin begin to get out of his own way and just do what he does really, really well (coach quarterbacks)? Will Monte Kiffin have the best defensive players in the nation at his disposal? Will Utah become the new power in the Pac-12, assuming that Texas and/or Oklahoma don't eventually migrate West in a few years?
The college football world will look vastly different in three years, and USC has way, way too many X factors to deal with before knowing if it'll come out smelling like roses.