Remember 2009? After years of Pac-10 dominance and the early departure of Mark Sanchez, USC fielded a team that was, at best, mediocre. When Pete Carroll left for Seattle soon thereafter, Trojans everywhere were in dismay. It was too soon to realize what USC really was, and clearly too early to know what might come next.
What USC really was wasn't good. Beyond the 9-4 record and a trip to the Emerald Bowl, it wasn't the same type of team that had come before it. It was entitled. It was overhyped. It had players who came in on recruiting trips thinking too much about the NFL, too little about hard work, discipline and team. Not all were that way, not by any stretch, but enough to where the culture that Carroll built had eroded. And rather than stop it, reverse it, relight the fire, etc., Carroll moved on. And while he deserves all the credit in the world for bringing USC out of the Paul Hackett doldrums and into an era of unprecedented success, what seems clear now -- two years later -- is that maybe what was missing in those latter years is, thankfully, what has returned.
In many ways, what came next was a return to what was there before. And there is no denying that Lane Kiffin, with the help of Ed Orgeron and Kennedy Polamalu, has brought back to USC what they helped Carroll create. They recruit, not just four-stars or five-stars but players with that something special inside -- hunger, competitiveness and an audacity not to know better. They work and instill that ethic into every young man that takes the field under their leadership. They expect greatness, and while often disappointed with a young team -- especially early in the season -- they don't change those expectations. They develop players to fit them, in the process turning a team that was severely lacking in many areas just eight weeks ago into a cohesive team that no one wants to play, one which is able to go into Autzen Stadium and beat up on the Ducks.