Suddenly, everything is wrong in USC’s world. The injuries are piling up.
The Heisman campaign for quarterback John David Booty never got started.
The defense isn’t coming up with turnovers.
And the Trojans just lost to a 40-point underdog.
The headlines are screaming: DYNASTY OVER.
Wow. Just wow.
With a 24-23 loss to Stanford ranking as the biggest point-spread upset in college football history, mighty USC is facing its severest case of anxiety since Pete Carroll started his tenure with a 2-5 record in 2001.
As a point of reference, Arizona, with first-year coach John Mackovic, was 3-4 on the same date.
“You might think that this is just going to drive me into the dirt and I’m not going to be able to bounce back,” Carroll said after the 2-5 start. “But being an optimist, I keep looking for the things that are going to help us down the road.”
That road led to Tucson for the next game, with the Trojans winning 41-34. Their dynasty wasn’t far away.
You can pinpoint the date. It started five years ago this week with a 30-28 victory over Cal on Oct. 12, 2002.
From that date until last Saturday, USC won an unprecedented five consecutive Pac-10 titles, three Heisman trophies and two national titles, coming within one crazy-legged play from Texas quarterback Vince Young of a third.
USC went 60-4 in that span.
Given the team’s success, rock-star status and the celebrity hangers-on, Carroll does a better job than any coach in the country in keeping his players in the moment.
This, however, probably was inevitable:
“They played like they had some entitlement,” Stanford tight end Ben Ladner told the L.A. Daily News after last week’s game.
What a great time for Arizona to play at USC, huh?
USC, so the thinking goes, won’t be feeling so entitled, so California cool after being utterly embarrassed by Stanford. The Trojans’ past three losses have come to unranked teams, so, yeah, chances are a sense of complacency had crept in.
But dynasty over?
That’s just something for the knee-jerk reactionaries to kick around.
Shoot, the season’s not over.
And here’s an old college football axiom (OK, so maybe I just made it up):
Never bet against the team that has had five consecutive top-ranked recruiting classes.
“We expect to recover like we always do, bounce back and put things back in perspective,” Carroll said.
Perspective: USC is ranked seventh in the USA Today coaches poll and in the Harris Interactive poll. Combined, they make up two-thirds of the Bowl Championship Series formula.
The Trojans can certainly climb back to the top in what has already been a wild season of upsets.
This isn’t to say USC is a flawless team.
There have been several injuries at the running back, notably the season-ending abdominal surgery for C.J. Gable, the most proven of the breakaway backs. A deep threat at receiver hasn’t emerged; Jamere Holland transferred and Travon Patterson had to take a medical redshirt.
Booty has been intercepted six times in the past two games and might miss the Arizona game because of a fractured finger that looked worse Tuesday than it did on game day, Carroll said.
The offensive line was rocked when guard Chilo Rachal and center Kristofer O’Dowd, a Salpointe Catholic graduate, were injured on the same play against Washington two games ago.
Long story short: 10 starters, and several key reserves, have missed at least one game with injury. A few are out for the season.
It would by something like UA losing linebacker Spencer Larsen, cornerback Antoine Cason, running back Nick Grigsby, center Blake Kerley, guard Colin Baxter, cornerback Wilrey Fontenot, receiver Terrell Turner, possibly quarterback Willie Tuitama . . . and then some.
The difference between USC and everyone else is that, despite the worst injury situation in the Pac-10, it still has seven of the nation’s top 45 senior NFL prospects, according to NFLdraftscout.com.
So not even a loss to a 40-point underdog – or a turnover margin that ranks 106th out of 119 teams – is going to drive Pete Carroll into the dirt.
Not unless Arizona wins Saturday.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Arizona (2-4, 1-2) at No. 10 USC (4-1, 0-1)
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM
Line: USC by 21