In explosive fashion, the Ducks destroyed USC on Saturday night. But as we all know, USC isn’t really USC right now, and hasn’t been for a decade. They’ve painfully spent the past 10 years learning what their blue-blood counterparts learned long ago; that in the modern era of college football you can’t rely on reputation alone.
But, make no mistake about it, USC will be back.
Throughout the HBO series Game of Thrones, there was a repeated foreshadowing, claiming that “winter is coming.” It refers to an enemy that is currently in hibernation but inevitably will rise again. And for the Ducks, that enemy is USC.
Most recently in their painful learning process, USC backed into making the uninspired move of promoting a lackluster assistant into the head coaching position. Clay Helton, the anti-Pete Carroll, doesn’t have the chops to coach at the highest level. His teams have continually underachieved, and it’s now killing recruiting as the Trojans, per 247sports.com, are nationally ranked at No. 62 for the 2020 recruiting cycle. That’s just behind “powerhouses” including Vanderbilt, North Texas and WSU. That’s an embarrassment at USC, where they should never finish outside of the Top 10.
Make no mistake about it, Oregon fans weren’t the only fans elated by the blowout. Many Trojan fans were happy that the Ducks delivered what will assuredly go down as the final nail in Helton’s USC coffin. In the words of lifetime Oregon fan and 30-year L.A. resident Jack Farrier, “People down here want him (Helton) gone so bad that it’s funny … they want to lose so he’ll get fired.”
No doubt now that wish will come true.
What’s Gone Wrong in La-La Land?
You must invest big dollars in your program, hire professional college athletic administrators (not former jocks), play in a modernized stadium, and have state-of-the-art facilities.
During the facilities wars that peaked in the ’90s and 2000s, programs across the country (such as Oregon) were infusing massive amounts of money into football infrastructure and coaching hires. USC watched program after program pass them by as they played in the enormously outdated Coliseum and had sub-par facilities.
Remember, during the 2001 head coaching search, nobody wanted the job. Candidate after candidate passed on coaching USC (including Oregon’s own Mike Bellotti) because USC was not considered a good job. Eventually, they settled on some washed-up NFL coach named Pete Carroll. Make no mistake about it, it wasn’t genius that led the Trojans into making one of the best coaching hires in modern college football history. It was sheer luck.
The sad thing for USC was that they hadn’t figured anything out during the Carroll years. After all, his success was in spite of the program’s nearsighted shortcomings, their success was all due to Pete. When Carroll left for the Seahawks, their solution was to hire what they saw as just another Carroll in the likeness of Lane Kiffin, and from there, USC’s decade of mediocrity set sail.
They never figured out that, in order to compete at the highest level, you need a quality athletic director running the show. Not ex-Trojan sports stars who would just walk around campus slapping high-fives, enjoying the limelight and sharing old war stories of past glories. You actually need a person who knows what he’s doing.
Call it arrogance, call it hubris, call it USC simply being USC. The Trojans have never been short on money and resources, but they’ve been short on leadership, humility and self-awareness.
You may be reading this and thinking, “Why the hell is Perkins spending an entire article talking about the woes of one of our greatest foes? How about a little Duck celebration talk?”
Well as they say, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Oregon needs to be aware and ready for the inevitable storm of fury that is brewing in Southern California.
The epic stadium reconstruction of the regal Coliseum is complete and ready for the 2028 Olympics. A new — real — athletic director has been hired in Cincinnati’s Mike Bohn, while the shadow of Urban Meyer is looming over Troy. Yes, the wheels of rebuilding the Trojans have been turning, and much faster than it may have seemed. The hiring of Bohn is proving that USC has finally caught on to how things are really done in the blue-blood world.
Which is why it was such a relief that the Ducks blasted the Trojans on Saturday night. Because if the Ducks couldn’t blow out the Trojans in L.A, on Saturday, when might they ever get that chance again?
The Final Threat
Before the season started, I wrote a piece titled, “It’s Pac-12 Title or Bust for the Ducks.” This rubbed some the wrong way. But a big part of why I took that position was because the Pac-12 was going to be down this year. And when the Pac-12 is “down” it’s usually because USC isn’t very good. Many knew Helton wouldn’t make it past 2019, so if the Trojans have the right coach in place for 2020, with a roster still filled with talent, we might only be next September away from USC returning to blue-blood form.
Because while the likes of Washington, Stanford and Utah will have up and down cycles in their ability to compete for conference championships, it’s only USC who has the capacity to be a stalwart in the excellence department along with the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson.
In other words, if Mario Cristobal gets Oregon to where we think he can — which is to become college football’s first non-blue-blooded perennial powerhouse — then USC stands as Oregon’s greatest threat from getting to that special place among college football’s elite.
Savor this blowout victory, Duck fans. Winter is coming, and the storm will arrive in a blizzard of gold and cardinal.
Spokane, WashingtonTop Photo by Eugene Johnson
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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