USC has taken a long road back to the Rose Bowl

first_imgA berth in the Rose Bowl Game was once a Trojan birthright. From 2004 to 2009, USC football took the field in Pasadena following the Rose Parade every single year save one — when the Trojans were busy thumping Oklahoma in Miami to win their (since-vacated) 2005 national championship. No team holds a candle to USC’s 33 Rose Bowl appearances and 24 victories: Michigan is in a very distant second with 20 appearances and eight wins.But it has been eight long years since USC last played in the Granddaddy of Them All, and much has changed in Troy during that drought. Two heroes from the ‘09 triumph, head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Mark Sanchez, remain in the spotlight today, but Carroll is in the business of winning Super Bowls, not Rose Bowls, and Sanchez saw some action for the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys in Sunday’s NFL action.As the NFL called Sanchez to New York after his 2009 junior season — and Carroll to Seattle a year later — the Trojans entered an unfamiliar period of borderline irrelevance. First hindered by the infamous Reggie Bush sanctions, then by simple underachievement, USC failed to make meaningful bowl games, and the brain trust fired up the coaching merry-go-round.It was, at least, a black comedy worthy of Hollywood. When only a postseason ban kept the 2011 Trojans from a shot at the Rose Bowl, Lane Kiffin’s 2012 squad was prematurely touted as the preseason favorite. A spectacular implosion saw USC finish unranked by the year’s end, having suffered losses to both UCLA and Notre Dame. This culminated in Kiffin’s notorious 3 a.m. firing the year after, when the coach was called off the team bus and fired at the airport.The drama didn’t end there, as interim coach Ed Orgeron resigned at the regular season’s conclusion when he wasn’t offered the full time position (despite leading the Trojans to a 7-2 record post-Kiffin). Current head coach Clay Helton stepped in as the interim’s interim and guided USC to victory over Fresno State in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl. Helton then returned to his role as offensive coordinator to make way for the incoming Steve Sarkisian. The Trojans finished Sarkisian’s inaugural season with a Holiday Bowl win over No. 25 Nebraska, and they looked ready to put the post-Carroll-era circus behind them, rebranding themselves through their head coach’s up-tempo scheme.Steve Sarkisian was fired midway through last season – Tal Volk | Daily TrojanThen Sarkisian infamously took the stage at the 2015 Salute to Troy preseason donor event. There, he reportedly said scheduled opponents Arizona State, Oregon and Notre Dame “all suck” before capping off his slurred speech with, “Get ready to f***ing Fight On, baby!” After a 3-2 start to the season—during which Sarkisian showed up inebriated to practice and allegedly even coached drunk in USC’s 42-14 romp at Arizona State — Helton was once again named interim coach, and Sarkisian was shown the door. The former head coach responded by filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university, claiming USC illegally fired him due to his disability of alcoholism. Meanwhile, Helton led the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship game, where they lost to Stanford and an uncontainable Christian McCaffrey. Shedding his interim label after the season, Helton finally earned the keys the program after six years on the coaching staff.It was under this new regime that USC began regaining its old swagger — but it began with desperation. A disastrous 1-2 start (including a season-opening 6-52 drubbing at the hands of Alabama) forced a change at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold took over under center and immediately began to turn heads, running and gunning like no other Trojan quarterback in recent memory.Although Darnold lost his debut start to Utah, USC ran the table thereafter, winning eight in a row to finish the regular season. Over three consecutive weeks, the Trojans claimed victories over No. 4 Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame. Junior jack-of-all trades Adoree’ Jackson began building a case for the Heisman Trophy with his breathtaking kick and punt returns, as well as his explosive touches on offense — all while primarily playing cornerback. For the first time in years, it seemed as if people were watching USC for its genuinely exciting football team, not rubbernecking out of morbid fascination like Los Angeles drivers coasting past a highway car wreck.Tal Volk | Daily Trojan Holding it together · Head coach Clay Helton’s season turned around after he named redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold the starter in Week 4.Which brings us to Monday. Thanks to the Huskies’ participation in this season’s playoff, the Trojans are back where they belong: in Pasadena for the New Year. And they look the part; on their best day, you could mistake this team for a Carroll-era juggernaut. Strangely enough, their opponents in 2017 are the same Nittany Lions they faced in 2009. But Penn State has gone through turmoil that even USC can’t begin to comprehend, and the Big 10 champions are certainly not akin to the Joe Paterno-led side that fell to Sanchez and company eight years ago.Yet multiple parallels remain between the two schools. The Nittany Lions are likewise making their first trip to the Rose Bowl Game since ’09. USC and Penn State have both dealt with NCAA sanctions and have cleaned up problematic cultures within the program (although “problematic” doesn’t do justice to the vileness of the Sandusky scandal). They have also both established new, better systems and have returned to prominence on the gridiron. Using overwrought Hollywood clichés, USC and Penn State have risen from the ashes — and perhaps things are now coming full circle on the football field come Monday night. It feels current and exciting, but also like a throwback to the bygone BCS and AP Poll eras. It’s the Granddaddy of Them All.Correction: A previous version of the timeline stated that former USC football coach Steve Sarkisian was fired in August 2015. Sarkisian was actually fired in October 2015. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.last_img read more