The Decline and Fall of the Trojan Empire
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 06, 2011
(Ed. Note: A version of this story originally ran on Sept. 8, 2010. Five days later, former USC star Reggie Bush became the first player in the 75-year history of the Heisman Trophy to forfeit the honor. Today, on June 7, 2011, we wake up to find that USC has been stripped of its 2004 BCS national title, another NCAA first. Hype merchants once laughably declared the Trojans the greatest dynasty in college football history. But the Cold, Hard Football Facts knew they were frauds from the beginning.)
By Kerry J. Byrne
Last of the Mycenaeans
The Cold, Hard Football Facts always win out over hype, even in the realm of college football. The Decline and Fall of the Trojan Empire is a classic example.
In case you haven't heard, it's not been a good week or a good year for USC fans, their former players, their former head coach, or for the ministers of hype in the sports media who desperately overplayed their hand trying to turn the very good USC program of the past decade into the G-O-A-T.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts were there by your side from the very beginning, beating back the flames of glitzy Hollywood hype with our fact-filled fire extinguisher of analysis.
You know the latest:
Matt Leinart, the Heisman-winning USC quarterback and Arizona's No. 1 pick in 2006, was cut by the Cardinals following their final 2010 exhibition game, after barely making a peep in the NFL (14 TD, 20 INT, 70.8 rating in 17 games over four years).
If you saw Leinart's hollow response in a sideline interview in the wake of his inept preseason performance against the Titans, you weren't surprised by Arizona's decision. Leinart just didn't have it; he didn't look like he was going to get it anytime soon.
And then came the September bombshell that many had expected: Reggie Bush forfeited his Heisman Trophy, a first in the 75-year history of the award. The decision came in the wake of a series of recruiting scandals that have rocked the USC football program.
And let's not forget the architect of the False Dynasty of Troy skipped town before the walls started to crumble around him. Pete Carroll left USC to coach the NFL's Seahawks in January, getting out one step ahead of the Mycenaean hordes. The Seahawks went 1-3 in the preseason, for those of you keeping score at home.
And then finally, here in June 2011, we learn that USC is the first program in history stripped of a national title. The Bowl Championship Series, itself a fraud, now has no champion for the 2004 season.
None of these developments come as a shock to the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
We've been on to the USC fraud from the very beginning. You might remember that certain powers attempted to portray USC of the 2000s as the greatest dynasty in college football history. It was a laughable assessment, as we pointed out so many times.
From our perspective, even at the height of their powers, nothing ever seemed quite right with USC. There were too many losses to bad teams. Too few signature victories. Too many in-game coaching gaffes. Too few undefeated seasons (one, to be exact). Too many screaming headlines. Too few Cold, Hard Football Facts. Too many free passses from a sports media trying to drum up ratings in a super-sized sports market with no NFL team.
In the very first days of 2006, before the BCS championship game, at the very passionate height of USC mania, the Cold, Hard Football Facts stood alone like England in 1940. As "pundits" at ESPN declared that USC might be the best college dynasty of all time, we declared that they weren't even the best team of that year. We decleared that Texas was better than the three-headed USC monster of BushLeinartWhite. We were correct then. We're still correct today.
Later in 2006, we found it no shock that all three USC headliners failed to go as high in the NFL draft as the "pundits" had predicted.
And as recently as 2009, we proved to you that USC of recent vintage was not only not the G-O-A-T, it wasn't even the greatest of its own era. Our analysis was so brilliant that it lit up the Southeastern Conference chat boards and was CHFF's single biggest piece of 2009. Not bad for a site largely devoted to pro football.
The NFL careers of USC's most over-hyped players and Heisman winners re-confirm the brilliance of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Former USC Carson Palmer, the 2002 Heisman winner, has struggled through a six-year career that's had flashes of greatness, but only rarely. The Bengals have enjoyed just two winning seasons over that time, and zero playoff victories.
As noted above, Leinart, the school's 2004 Heisman winner, was just cut by the Cardinals after four very humbling years in the NFL.
Bush, the possible soon-to-be-first-ex Heisman winner (2005), won a Super Bowl last year with the Saints but has never come close to living up to the hype that surrounded him at USC. He's scored a total of 28 touchdowns in four NFL seasons and his production has steadily declined each year, from 1,307 yards from scrimmage as a rookie (2006) to 725 yards from scrimmage last year. He's just your ordinary dual-purpose running back who gets a handful of touches per game.
LenDale White, meanwhile, rushed for an incredible 24 touchdowns during his last season at USC (2005). He's matched those 24 touchdowns after four NFL seasons with Tennessee. Turns out that running wild against Hawaii, Washington State and Fresno hasn't translated against the Colts, Patriots and Chargers. White has averaged a meager 3.7 YPA in the NFL and has bounced around from club to club here in the summer of 2010. He's now buried on Denver's roster.
To put it another way, the impact players at the next level from those Pete Carroll USC teams have been few and far between.
And even those who have lived up to the hype have ultimately disappointed. For example, former USC linebacker Brian Cushing was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Texans last season. But he was found to have violated the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy and will miss the first four games of the 2010 season. One can only wonder, on a program infested with violations, how many USC players were enhancing their performance in college.
Probably the biggest impact made by a USC player over the past decade has been All Pro safety Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 2003. He's been phenomenal in the pros; a potential Hall of Famer. But it's worth noting that he wasn't even a "Pete Carroll guy." Polamalu entered USC in 1999, under the school's then-head coach Paul Hackett.
So what happened? How could the "pundits" miss so badly in their analysis of USC.
The Peter Carroll Era USC phenomenon was, put most simply, a unique confluence of events in the annals of sports and sports media. His Trojans were the first big-time college football power from a major media market in the modern media days of blanket internet coverage and 24-hour cable sports.
Miami of the 1980s was a rare major-market college football power; but they dominated before the internet, and when 24-hour cable sports was still a novelty. (The Hurricanes were also a vastly superior dynasty to the Trojans; but that's another story).
In any case, USC of the 2000s presented a perfect recipe to overhype a program that was good, but hardly the best of its time, and certainly not among the best of all time. As we noted all along, you only had to go back to Nebraska of the mid-1990s to find a college program that was clearly superior to USC. And you only had to look at LSU in recent years to find a contemporary program more successful than USC.
But Lincoln is no La-La Land. And Baton Rouge doesn't play as well in Bristol. So the hype merchants didn't care. You had to come here, instead, to find the real story: USC over the past decade was never as good as it was made out to be.
Does anybody doubt it now?
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