In many ways the USC Trojans can be seen as a measuring stick of the Jim Harbaugh era of Stanford Football. Three years ago Stanford travelled to the Coliseum and stunned USC in what was billed at the time as the greatest upset in college football history, but it was widely dismissed as a fluke. Last year's game in Los Angeles was a coming out party for the Cardinal as they completely humiliated the Trojans, 55-21. It wasn't a fluke, but the margin of victory certainly raised a few eyebrows. This Saturday, though, a Cardinal win in Palo Alto is expected. Quite a difference from 2007.
As we look towards Saturday night's game, I thought it might be informative to get a report direct from the Trojan inner circle. Joey Kaufman of the Trojan blog, Conquest Chronicles, was good enough to answer a few of my questions. You can read my answers to his questions over at their site. Enjoy.
How do people feel about Lane Kiffin? It's obviously still early, but is he the right man to move the program forward?
I think the best term to describe the reaction among ‘SC fans with Kiffin as head coach would be “cautiously optimistic.” Are we convinced he’s going to lead the program back to the top of the college football universe? No, that post is presently reserved for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. But, unlike a lot of people in the mainstream media or 30-something UCLA bloggers, we’re not sold on the fact that he’s going to be a total flop. At the very least, we know he can recruit, and with the coaching staff in place, it’s still tough to imagine ‘SC returning to the days of Paul Hackett, where finishes in the bottom half of the conference, or even in last place, were commonplace. So, personally, I guess I feel that just 18 games as a college head coach is just too soon to tell whether a guy can revive a program that may not be on life support, but is using a heavy inhaler.
When the Trojans were undefeated, they were spinning the "us against the world" idea. Even if they couldn't go to a bowl game, they could still finish undefeated, kind of like Auburn a few years back. What's the mood after the Washington loss? Is there another goal to shoot for or is the season a loss?
I guess, most ‘SC fans will tell you that winning the conference is still within reach, as it technically is. Look, I think most people realize that, considering this team’s depth, 13-0 was largely out of reach. Certainly fun to shoot for, but in terms of a reality, it was a bit of a stretch. But the primary goal of 2010 has always been fighting the perception that USC is a sinking ship. Whether it is, or isn’t, it’s still important for Kiffin and company to equal last season’s success, and beat UCLA, as both would go a long way in maintaining the idea that this is still an elite program.
With all the hype surrounding Jake Locker and Andrew Luck and even Nick Foles, Matt Barkley has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. How is he developing?
In many ways, Barkey is certainly progressing in his second year as the Trojans’ starting quarterback. That’s really unquestionable; although, the competition hasn’t been particularly impressive as of yet. Outside of Washington, none of the opposing teams had much of a defense. Yet, regardless, his touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 4:1, and he’s among the national leaders in passing efficiency. That’s got to count for something. But there’s still something that’s holding him back. The numbers are much better, but at times, he has a few head scratching plays, particularly the 3rd and 4 throw against Washington. So, is he better? Absolutely, but he’s still a sophomore.
USC has always been known as Tailback U, but it seems like some of the recent recruits haven't panned out. What's the current state of the Trojan backfield?
The backfield may be one of the few bright spots in 2010, thus far. And by the backfield, I largely mean Allen Bradford, who finished with 223 rushing yards against Washington a week ago. Bradford, who is a fifth-year senior, is the team’s most dependable tailback, and has good breakaway speed, and strength to bully his way past defenders. If Bradford struggles, the Trojans will rely on junior Marc Tyler and freshman Dillon Baxter, but both have struggled with consistency this year.
As hard as it might seem to believe, the Trojans are heading to Palo Alto as prohibitive underdogs. What do they have to do to win, and how likely is a Trojan victory?
A congratulations is in store, as the Cardinal have gone from 44-point underdogs in 2007, to heavy favorites three years later. I guess things have changed in regards to the landscape of the Pac-10. If ‘SC has any chance on winning this week, it’s going to have to run the ball, and keep Stanford’s offense off the field. It’s a daunting task, but hey, Ted Miller thinks we can win!
Finally, a prediction.
No matter how many positives ‘SC fans can take out of the first five games, I still think a road win against a top-15 like Stanford is too much to ask. I’m taking the Cardinal 34-21.