It's tough to be right on schedule

LOS ANGELES – Like spin doctors on a political campaign, there are different-colored cardinal and gold lenses being worn when trying to analyze and predict outcomes on the 2014 USC football schedule.

For the past couple of seasons, the early touting has shaded the Trojans' schedules as either “doable” or “soft.” Because Oregon was not on last season’s schedule and Washington State was, it was assumed that this was proper evidence that a big winning season was right around the corner.

The Trojans did win 10 games in 2013, a considerable achievement given the carousel of coaching changes not seen in the glorious history of USC football.

Of course, the 2013 schedule results didn’t exactly go the way most expected in accumulating those 10 victories. Then again, it’s not how you get ’em, but that you get ’em.

First, a little refresher course.

The incredulous 10-7 Coliseum loss to the Washington State Cougars last Sept. 7 was, well, mortifying to say the least. It was as though former head coach Lane Kiffin was trying not to lose a game and certainly gave the appearance of panic with rookie quarterback Cody Kessler.

For those who thought they had the 2013 season all figured out before the first touchdown or tackle, even the previous week’s season-opening 30-13 victory at Hawaii wasn’t exactly a comforting performance.

Most expected that the Trojans would have their hands full at Arizona State, but to lose 62-41 put a well-deserved Sun Devils pitchfork in Lane Kiffin’s USC head coaching career.

Enter interim head coach Ed Oregon, and the Trojans managed to bounce back in the Coliseum by upending Arizona 38-31. Considering what had transpired in Tempe, Ariz., in the previous game and the ensuing coaching change at LAX in the dead of night, who could have predicted that scenario?

Again, the Trojans pulled the unexpected on a chilly, November Friday night at Oregon State, pounding the shocked Beavers and the Corvallis faithful 31-14. With a track record at Reser Stadium as solid as quicksand, the Trojans' schedule prognosticators were in a state of confusion over the “upset.”

Again given the situation and the expected result, it was a major upset by the Men of Troy when they defeated nationally ranked Stanford 20-17 last November in a raucous Coliseum. The delirious masses storming the storied turf after the final gun was an unforgettable moment.

Against the Trojans' two biggest rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA, those objective predictors for the 2013 season were spot-on, although the individual losses didn’t really compare to each other. Had two missed field goals been converted, the Trojans would have beaten the Irish in South Bend, Ind., but there wasn’t much of an argument regarding UCLA’s convincing 35-14 win in the Coliseum.

Following the conclusion of the regular season, enter new coach Steve Sarkisian, exit Orgeron entirely, and enter interim head coach Clay Helton.

Who in the summer could have predicted that chain of events?

Motivated with yet another interim head coach in Helton and the goal of 10 wins, the Trojans embarrassed Fresno State 45-20 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, bringing to an end a roller coaster of a season.

All of this brings us to the same early assessment folly for the 2014 season. With a new Trojans head coach, staff, system, and not even the commencement of spring ball, there are those already dispensing future schedule success.

Sure, there is no Oregon or Washington on the 2014 slate, which also means no visits to Autzen or Husky Stadium, but there are still plenty of potential potholes.

After a revenge-minded Fresno State to open up the 2014 season in the Coliseum, there is no time for celebration, as the Cardinal and Gold travel to Palo Alto for a much-too-early September encounter with Stanford.

One would hate to say the Stanford contest is this season’s make -or-break game, but one way or the other, Sarkisian’s team will then trek across the country to play at Boston College, hoping to avoid a letdown after an emotional victory over the Cardinal, or Sarkisian will be on major damage control in the event of a Pac-12 loss.

For those already forecasting wins and losses, after the Trojans back-to-back roadies at Stanford and Boston College, the concluding road games include difficult visits to Arizona, Washington State, Utah and UCLA.

Keep in mind that games at Arizona and Washington State are back to back in late October and early November, and that could spell trouble. No doubt the Cougars won’t be intimidated, having beaten the 2013 Trojans in the Coliseum, and Arizona in Tucson will find a Wildcats team smarting from that tight loss last season in L.A.

And let’s not forget how the Men of Troy had to rally last time they made a visit to Salt Lake City to play Utah. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that the Utes jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter and the Trojans escaped with a 38-21 victory on a cold, Thursday night game on ESPN.

In Trojans lingo, the 2014 schedule concludes with the “third season” – at UCLA followed by hosting Notre Dame. It certainly wouldn't be surprising if the Trojans are underdogs in both those games, considering that quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Everett Golson return for their respective clubs.

So now you think you’ve got the 2014 season all figured out?

You say the Trojans are either headed for the College Football Playoff or a return visit to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl?

One thing you can say or think is that predicting the results is no surer thing than the season before it, and that’s what makes it all the more intriguing.