USC Trojans: Pat Haden

Is anybody else ready for some football?

After one of the strangest weeks in the history of USC football, the Trojans get to put the focus back on the field Saturday, and kickoff can’t come soon enough.

The first hiccup of the week came last Saturday night when USC athletics director Pat Haden was unable to attend the annual “Salute to Troy” kickoff event on campus. The word given to the crowd that night was that Haden was dealing with family issues, but that everything was fine. As it turned out, Haden was actually in the hospital, and it was the second time in two days that he was there.

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Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIt doesn't seem likely that Josh Shaw will be playing for USC anytime soon.
No reason has been given for why Haden was hospitalized, but he was back in the office this week, just in time to deal with the ups-and-downs of the Josh Shaw situation. The hero who wasn’t, a genuinely strange drama that still hasn’t been fully explained and might never be. What we know right now is that Shaw was suspended indefinitely by USC after admitting he lied about the original story, which combined with the ankle injuries means that he won’t be lining up for the Trojans anytime soon. In his post-practice media comments on Thursday, Sarkisian did leave the door open for a potential return for Shaw, but he gave no parameters for how or when that could happen.

Sarkisian also dealt with another off-field distraction in that Thursday media session when he responded to comments made by former USC defensive back/running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team this week but not before firing off comments in social media, calling Sarkisian a racist. Brown isn’t a name familiar to many fans outside of the USC program; he made a couple starts at corner early in his career before injuries really slowed him. Brown had requested a move to tailback this year, which Sarkisian granted, and brought a speed element. He could have found a role, but something obviously went wrong from his perspective in regard to his relationship with the head coach. Sarkisian refuted Brown’s comments and many players -- past and present -- immediately came to Sarkisian’s defense and spoke out against the remarks from their former teammate.

What does all this mean to the mindset of the team as they prepare for the season opener? After all, this was supposed to be a period of new beginnings for the Trojans. The NCAA sanctions basically a thing of the past, a talented roster capable of moving forward under their new coach, one who spent the offseason charming boosters and recruits with equal success. It would be easy to look at the distractions and think they would be an issue, but the guess here is that they will have very little impact, if any.

The most tangible impact will be the loss of Shaw on the field. You don’t just snap your fingers and replace a veteran senior who is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, one who was just elected a team captain, no matter how talented the players are who will be stepping in. But in terms of the drama influencing the emotion, preparation or focus of the team, I just don’t see it happening. The players have been waiting too long for this. The 2013 season showed this group that they can persevere through four coaching changes and still come out with 10 wins, so what happened this past week isn’t anything they can’t handle.
USC athletic director Pat Haden weighed in on the subject of the NCAA “power five” vote that took place on Thursday, giving greater autonomy to the top five conferences in creating rules that apply to their group.

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Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC athletic director Pat Haden wants college athletes to get more free time.
“This isn’t a surprise; it’s an expected result,” Haden said. “It’s good for the student-athlete and it doesn’t mean those outside the power-five conferences can’t do more, but we probably have the resources to do more than others, and that’s the way it’s been for a long time.

“If you look at what we’re doing at USC, we’ve already implemented the four-year scholarships and we’ve made changes in our eating policy; we’re always going to do as much as we’re allowed to do. There are still going to be some things that are outside of this autonomy vote. We can’t just sit here and say ‘OK, we’re going to have 15 baseball scholarships now.' That would be putting those other conferences at a disadvantage.”
video
Lawyers get busted on plenty. Rightfully so. They often make a living out of complicating the simple. The best lawyers elevate disingenuousness to an art form.

Yet litigation and opportunistic lawyers are forcing the NCAA -- read: college football and men's basketball -- to grow up. In the presently pitched courtroom battle of the disingenuous known as the O'Bannon v. NCAA antitrust class action lawsuit, the NCAA's already tattered credibility is hemorrhaging, and that is good news for young athletes and folks who appreciate gestures aimed at advancing toward equity and fairness in games that have long graduated from amateur to big business.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUSC AD Pat Haden says moving to four-year scholarships for football and basketball will help 'refocus on student-athlete welfare.'
Take USC, which on Monday announced that it will now offer "four-year athletic scholarships to all scholarship student-athletes in the revenue sports of football and men's and women's basketball in lieu of the current practice of offering one-year renewable scholarships."

"In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field," athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement.

First of all, we should not get carried away with this decision, which will be effective July 1. While this is unquestionably a positive move and a benefit for revenue sports athletes at USC, it's also mostly about being proactive and getting some good publicity, not institutional sacrifice.

For one, most schools, including USC, haven't been ruthlessly Machiavellian about the one-year deals. If an athlete signs, stays out of trouble and is positive in the locker room, it's rare for a school to cut him or her loose just because he or she falls short of athletic expectations.

Sure, some coaches get creative with practices that amount to cutting players. More than a few of those "injury retirements" are mutual separations between athlete and team that allow said athlete to remain on full scholarship as a student. Sure, a coach is more likely to dismiss a 20-year-old sophomore bench warmer after a citation as a minor in possession of a beer than he is a star who gets hauled off to jail for a more serious offense. And, sure, a new coach sometimes makes a few statement cuts after his first spring practices to send a message about there being a new sheriff in town.

But, really, those one-year scholarships have been typically treated as four-year agreements.

Moreover, a four-year scholarship doesn't exempt an athlete from academic and behavioral standards. Know that star players will continue to be favored with more protection than marginal contributors, whatever the scholarship papers say.

Still, this is a savvy move by Haden and USC. The Trojans' athletic department will get a headline that celebrates it for fighting the good fight, for making the life of a student-athlete at USC just a little bit better, a little more secure. When you cut to the chase, that really has been what all this ominous talk -- in some quarters -- about unionizing and pay-for-play has been about: Giving athletes a better deal.

Haden, a former star QB at USC as well as a Rhodes Scholar who made big bucks in the private sector, has long been an advocate of giving athletes a better deal, though he also is adamant that it can be done without athletes unionizing and receiving salaries. As the Big Five conferences -- Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 -- take irrevocable steps toward more autonomy, expect to see more individual institutions look to set their own rules. These new rules, by the way, will be about finding a competitive edge as much as nobility of purpose.

For example, while USC doesn't recruit many athletes who worry about being cut or the length of their scholarship term, it is one more selling point Steve Sarkisian can bring into an athlete's living room. It's fair to assume that more than a few mommies and daddies will like the idea of a four-year promise over a one-year one.

USC isn't alone. Northwestern administrators quickly responded on Twitter on Monday that the Wildcats have been doing four-year deals since 2012 for all sports. Kudos.

The question now is whether four-year scholarships become a rule or, at least, a popular standard, or if you see a diversity of approaches among institutions in the Big Five conferences.


USC officially will be done with NCAA sanctions on Tuesday, so the Los Angeles Times published a package this weekend looking back and projecting forward, talking to -- or getting turned down for interviews by -- some of the key players in the most egregious miscarriage of justice in the history of NCAA enforcement.

It's not inaccurate to say the NCAA's indefensible and farcical ruling against USC football is a notable part of the organization's humiliating and entirely justified downward momentum over the past four or so years, both in terms of public perception and in the courtroom, as well as the movement for autonomy among the Big Five conferences.

The NCAA is incapable of fairly and consistently policing its member organizations. That's as good a reason as any to diminish its power.

From the Times:
As many of you know, I've ranted and raved about the USC case numerous times through the years -- such as this and this and this. While some have implied that the source of my strong feelings on the matter emerges from some sort of USC/Pac-12 bias, that's simply inaccurate. It's always been about facts and fairness. Truth is, it's been a pretty easy argument to win -- over and over again.

That said: This feels like a great week for the Pac-12 blog. I am weary of the whole mess. Too often it disturbed my typical Zen-like equilibrium.

USC has spent the last four years getting justifiably mad. The Trojans best course going forward is to get even.
One of the major items of interest coming out of this week's Pac-12 meetings in Phoenix was the possibility of moving the Pac-12 championship game to a neutral site -- specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

A neutral site would take the pressure off the host institution to prepare for a major event in just six days. It would provide a showcase game in a major population area in a shiny new venue. It would have the potential to become a major event.

That said, it also could feature a lot of empty seats, as the Pac-12 is spread out more than, say, the SEC or Big 12, which use a neutral sites for their championship games. Empty seats do not look good on television.

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,200)

It also would go against the original justification for the home-host model: It provided an advantage to the team that had the best regular season in the conference. That not only seemed reasonable, and by extension, it also provided protection for the conference's No. 1 seed as it jockeyed for postseason position. That might be even more important with the advent of the College Football Playoff this fall.

Jon Wilner provides some cogent analysis here.

Pac-12 coaches and athletic directors seemed intrigued but also skeptical about moving the game to a neutral site, particularly for teams that had short-term visions of hosting the game.

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Still, a packed house at sparkling new Levi's Stadium on Dec. 5 would be a pretty compelling image to showcase the nation.

So what do you think?

Do you favor the home-host model or moving the Pac-12 title game to a neutral site?

Video: USC AD Pat Haden

May, 8, 2014
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USC athletic director Pat Haden talks about Pac-12 meetings and the College Football Playoff.

PHOENIX -- The overriding message coming out of Pac-12 meetings is that major changes in college football governance are now inevitable, even if the details and long-term consequences of those changes remain unclear.

The Big Five conferences will meet in August and almost certainly obtain a new autonomy level within the NCAA structure. At that point, major rules changes, including those that significantly bolster the support and benefits provided to athletes, will start to be formulated. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott intimated that things could move fairly quickly thereafter, so his message to conference coaches and athletic directors was basically to buckle up.

"Quickly is a relative concept, but deadlines are good," Scott said. "I think if we get the autonomy that we've asked for, the commissioners will be setting out a very aggressive timetable to put proposals out ... I expect we'll have a very intensive process over the next four months -- September through December -- where practitioners from our campuses are working on different agendas, including those with a deadline of January, specific proposals that can be voted upon by the 65 schools [in the Big Five]."

So "quickly" might mean?

"The goal is to implement whatever changes we're going to implement for the 2015-16 year," Scott said.

Chief among those would be cost of attendance scholarships, which could vary significantly by team and conference. Scott, however, noted that doesn't create a massive change of direction and complication because the pure value of tuition scholarships also vary by team and conference.

What does need to be implemented to prevent any fudging is a clear formula that all 65 schools apply to calculate the new value of their cost of attendance scholarships.

"I don't think it will that big of a deal, but there will be issues to work through in terms of a common method of determining the full cost," Scott said.

There is a significant degree of consensus within the Big Five conferences for adopting the cost of attendance scholarships, and it appears there is unanimity within the Pac-12.

"These are a lot of things that are going to be costly for us but I think are necessary and in line with what I believe we should be doing for our student-athletes," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, echoing other conference ADs.

While Scott was unwilling to admit that the Northwestern football union challenge and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA were driving the oncoming changes, he did concede the legal challenges to the NCAA governance structure and the publicity surrounding them weren't too far from administrators' minds.

"Is it some of these external challenges driving it? I would say no. There's been a recognition for some time [about these issues]," Scott said. "But I'd say external pressures bring a helpful focus and helpful push to get these things done."

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AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLevi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be the new home of the Pac-12 championship game as well.
As for the other major item on the Pac-12 agenda, it was more based on the West Coast: The location of the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. There were earnest discussions over the two days about changing it from a game hosted by the conference's top team to a neutral site, specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

While the potential move was an intriguing idea, it also isn't a done deal.

"I think there was a lot of positive feeling about it," Scott said. "Some objected. There are some pros and cons."

Said Moos: "Personally, I think [Levi's Stadium] is the way to go."

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Shrugged Washington's Scott Woodward: "I'm ambivalent. I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other."

If the title game is going to be played in the new 49ers stadium on Dec. 5, a decision almost certainly would be announced in June, when the Pac-12 presidents meet.

"If we are going to make the move, it wouldn't be later than that," Scott said.

So it appears that the summer, once a quiet time for college football news, will be anything but that this year.

Pac-12 lunch links

April, 24, 2014
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7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.
Happy Friday.
 

Find some time for the defense

March, 12, 2014
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The first practice was on speed dial. The tempo was frenetic. The energy was palpable.

The Steve Sarkisian Era opened in a blur with the new head coach happily immersed in the middle of his revolutionary -- for USC, at least -- no-huddle offense, calling the plays, communicating with his quarterbacks and carefully positioning his running backs and receivers.

It was a happy, upbeat afternoon full of unbridled hope and surging optimism.

And while this is not meant to deflate anything that is just starting out and beginning to build, if Sarkisian wants to succeed where his predecessor failed, he needs to understand one major facet of the job that Lane Kiffin never grasped.

He needs to spend at least a portion of his practice time with the defense.

Granted, it was just one practice, but the truth is he didn’t do much of that on Tuesday. He is an offense-oriented coach, and it is understandable. His priority is on that side of the ball. Moreover, he trusts the talented new coordinator he brought with him from Washington, Justin Wilcox, to take care of the defense.

But to many of those USC fans who suffered through the Kiffin regime, that tendency is more than a little scary. They watched Kiffin spend all his time at practice with the offense, rarely, if ever, wandering down to observe a defensive drill. They saw him during games staring at his now infamous play card, even while his team was desperately trying to stop an opposing offense. They would see him talking to a quarterback or a wideout but never to a linebacker or safety.

Whatever else you thought of him, there was no denying that Kiffin was a one-dimensional coach.

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Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSteve Sarkisian talks with USC quarterback Cody Kessler at practice.
Sarkisian must be careful not to fall into that same trap.

The great Trojan coaches of the past never did. John McKay was famous for developing Tailback U, but the rock-solid foundation of his teams was always a ferocious defense. Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis and Co. were electrifying, but so was The Wild Bunch.

It was the same with John Robinson, who preached a strong, power-running game while making sure there were guys like Ronnie Lott, Chip Banks and Joey Browner to attend to the less-glamorous side.

And then, of course, there was Pete Carroll, who was a defensive guy first and foremost, although he did manage to recruit plenty of athletes like Matt Leinart, Mike Williams and Reggie Bush to light up scoreboards around the country.

The point is, the coaches who have been overwhelmingly successful in college football are those who have taken equal interest in offense and defense.

Now, this is not to say Sarkisian won’t do that. Maybe he will. But as a noted offensive guru and, like Kiffin, a coach who refuses to give up the play-calling duties, it definitely is more difficult. You naturally become more attached to that facet of the job.

Based on his time in Washington, the evidence is that Sarkisian definitely has room for improvement in that area. In his first couple of seasons with the Huskies, while the team’s offense and overall record were better, the defense was deplorable. In 2011, Washington finished 105th or lower nationally in scoring defense, pass defense and total defense.

Once he brought in Wilcox, those numbers changed dramatically. By 2013, Washington was in the top 35 in scoring defense and 11th in pass defense.

But while Sarkisian seems to have found the right defensive coordinator, he also has to show he is not just there to delegate on defense. Make no mistake, the players will know.

One of the main reasons Ed Orgeron was so warmly embraced in his time as interim head coach a year ago is that the kids saw how involved he was on both sides of the ball. When Dion Bailey or Devon Kennard made a big, rally-killing play on defense, Orgeron wasn’t standing 10 yards down the sideline studying his next play-calling options. He was right there, cheering and enthusiastically slapping them on the backs.

Again, it is way too early to predict precisely what kind of coach Sarkisian will be for the Trojans. And one practice is far too soon to evaluate his methods.

But the warning signs are there, and if he’s as smart as Pat Haden, J.K. McKay and others seem to think he is, Sarkisian will not only be aware of them, he will do something about them.

Remember, Sark, in your rush to become the next great coach at USC, the mantra is really simple:

Defense matters.
From now until fall practice, first-year USC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian will be making decisions that not only affect his team and program but the general perception of the proceedings. Here’s a list of 10 items that Sark has addressed or will address in the coming months.

Spring practice viewing: Talk about a no-brainer and public relations bonanza. It appears Sark has made the decision to allow fans to watch spring ball. Viewing figures to be from atop Dedeaux Field, which to be quite honest, is probably a better viewing spot than on the sidelines. From Dedeaux Field, fans can get a better view of the offensive and defensive linemen doing individual battle, and you can also get a “50-yard-line ” vantage point.

Sark’s decision: Open practices.

Coliseum scrimmages: Sarkisian also has indicated that the public is welcome to spring scrimmages in the Coliseum. Saturday practices in the Coliseum make for a warm, fuzzy and cardinal and gold football day. And, of course, there is the final culmination of spring ball with the annual USC spring game on April 19 in the Trojans’ famous venue. Allowing the public into the Coliseum for a Saturday practice is another public relations windfall.

Sark’s decision: Open Coliseum scrimmages.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsWill Steve Sarkisian make quick changes to how the USC football program works?
Spring blocking and tackling: With Sarkisian saying 50 bodies or so will be able to fully participate in spring ball, the coach’s decision appears to err on the side of caution when it comes to measured hitting, tackling, and live scrimmaging. In particular, this spring is about learning new systems, formations and player evaluations. However, no major hitting or intense scrimmaging does impede in complete player evaluations.

Sark’s decision: Reduced hitting and scrimmaging.

Fall blocking and tackling: Sark has already indicated he is going to check with NFL teams on how they deal with hitting and scrimmaging with a small roster. Wait a minute, didn’t Sarkisian coach in the NFL and didn’t he see how lack of hitting hurt Lane Kiffin’s Trojans teams on both sides of the ball? Astute Trojans football fans will keep an eye on Sarkisian’s fall practice decision and probably compare the methodology to that of former interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s last season.

Sark’s decision: To be determined.

The Rising Stars Camp: This two-day, prep evaluation camp is the big one in late June in which the best of the best high school players -- locally and from out-of-state -- show their stuff on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field. Because of the NCAA sanctions -- or so we are told -- the public and the media have been barred from attending. Will that change with the NCAA sanctions being completed in early June and what will the decision be if it is left up to Sarkisian?

Sark’s decision: To be determined.

Fall practice times: It’s a long way off, but practice times in the fall might return to those dreadful early morning sessions, which proved under Kiffin to be ill advised. The team’s GPA went down when practices were held in the early morning. One wonders if athletic director Pat Haden will have any input on Sarkisian’s eventual decision, especially given the fact Haden is very sensitive to academic issues. There is no question that returning players who have experienced both early morning and late afternoon practice have an opinion. Would Sarkisian dare take a team vote on this decision?

Sark’s decision: To be determined.

Credibility: How will the new relationships be between coaches and players once they hit the practice field? Has Sarkisian assembled a coaching staff that will make the returning Trojans forget about last season’s staff? With respected assistant coaches Orgeron, Clancy Pendergast, Tommie Robinson, and John Baxter gone, has Sarkisian put together a staff that can quickly overcome the loss of those respected coaches? Maybe the answers won’t come until the fall, but spring is a beginning.

Sark’s decisions: The head coach is pleased with his new staff, especially coming off a terrific recruiting effort for the class of 2014 and progress already made for the class of 2015.

Uniforms: Well, here is one item that apparently won’t need to be addressed. From his introductory news conference, Sarkisian made his preference clear. Unlike Kiffin, Sark understands the USC “look,” which means everything to the fan base and tradition.

Sark’s decision: No uniform changes.

Media relations: It appears that beginning with the first actual game week, the media will be ushered out of practice once game planning is being implemented. Honestly, Pete Carroll never worried about what the press saw. In fact, he even said that most of the press wouldn’t even understand what they were watching. Kiffin, of course, was understandably paranoid with media, and eventually didn’t let media into practice. Obviously, Kiffin closing practices didn’t help in the Coliseum loss last season to Washington State loss and the trouncing by ASU in Tempe. The reality is that games are not won or lost by the media watching practice. Interim head coaches Orgeron and Clay Helton opened practice up completely to the media -- including injury reports -- and you see how that turned out.

Sark’s decision: As of the moment, restricted media access during the season.

The Jackson factor: Depending on who you are listening to, five-star freshman DB/WR Adoree' Jackson will either be an offensive player who plays occasionally on defense or a defensive player who occasionally plays offense. Sarkisian says defense first, and Jackson seems to say he’ll play defense but will be part of selected offensive packages.

Sark’s decision: Jackson begins on defense, but there are possibilities on offense.

Season wrap: USC

January, 15, 2014
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The big news for USC's 2013 campaign wasn't the season itself but the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. That, however, also was the transformative moment of the season, as the Trojans bounced back from a dispiriting 3-2 start to finish 10-4 and rank 19th, rallying under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

The Trojans went 6-2 under Orgeron, but his hopes for earning the full-time job were likely dashed by two losses to Notre Dame and UCLA, USC's two chief rivals.

The second big news for the Trojans was the hiring of Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, which received a mixed reaction. But that points toward the future. Our concern is the 2013 season.

You can read our graded review of USC here.

Offensive MVP: The Trojans' offense struggled much of the season, ranking ninth in the conference with 29.7 points per game, but its most consistent weapon was receiver Nelson Agholor. With Marqise Lee in and out of the lineup with injuries, it was Agholor, a sophomore, who led the Trojans with 918 yards receiving and six touchdowns. His 16.4 yards per reception also was tops among the team's receivers. Further, he led the conference and ranked second in the nation with a 19.1-yard average on punt returns, which included two returns for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Leonard Williams became one of the nation's best defensive linemen as a true sophomore. He ranked second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles and was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and third-team by the Associated Press. He is almost certain to be a 2014 preseason All-American.

Best moment: No. 4 Stanford had rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the score at 17-17, and it had the ball with more than three minutes remaining on its 40-yard line. There was plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal, but Stanford QB Kevin Hogan threw his second fourth-quarter interception to Su'a Cravens at the USC 44. The Trojans then got a 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari, who had struggled for much of 2013, with just 19 seconds left to notch the upset, and recorded the fourth and best win of what would become a five-game winning streak under Orgeron.

Worst moment: While the 10-7 loss at home to Washington State was horrible -- the Trojans had just 193 total yards -- and was the beginning of the end for Kiffin, the 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the defeat that ended his tenure. Athletic director Pat Haden was so dismayed with the white-flag performance -- the Trojans gave up 612 yards -- that he fired Kiffin at LAX in the early morning hours of the next day. Of course, that low moment seems to spur the season's transformation so some may see Kiffin's firing as a good thing.

WeAreSC New Year's resolutions 

December, 30, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- The clock is ticking towards 2014, and it’s time for some cardinal and gold New Year’s resolutions.

I resolve to always appreciate and remember the 2013 Trojans and what a tremendous accomplishment it was to win 10 games in spite of the horrendous circumstances and drama.

I resolve not to believe that this team was so together and galvanized despite three coaches and the naming of a fourth that anybody could have coached them to victory against Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.


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Mailbag: More Sankey-Carey kerfuffle

December, 17, 2013
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Postseason awards and All-America teams are a hot, and always controversial, topic this week.

Chris in Lake Stevens, Wash. writes: (Ka'Deem) Carey over (Bishop) Sankey? Are you an idiot or an Arizona grad? Sankey had more yards, more TDs and a better YPC. You've lost all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

Kevin Gemmell: Really? All credibility? Idiot? For picking a first-team All-American, a Doak Walker finalist, a guy who finished ahead of Sankey in the Heisman voting and the offensive player of the year as selected by the coaches?

Guess the coaches are idiots as well.

I’m happy to re-open the debate (and I will below). But your note smacks of uneducated fanaticism.

Chris L in Memphis writes: In making his case on East Coast bias, Ted wrote this: "Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's best running back." Please make the case as to how Carey is even the best back in his conference.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d be happy to, Chris. And thanks for your letter. I know this particular Chris to be an extremely educated Washington fan -- the kind that makes Washington fans look good.

First off, as I stated in last week’s mailbag, I thought Ted’s East Coast bias column was one of the strongest pieces I’ve ever read from him.

Obviously, the Sankey vs. Carey debate will rage for years. And it should. It’s fun to debate the merits, of which there are many, of two fantastic players. Washington fans will always back Sankey -- which is right. And Arizona fans will always back Carey -- which is also right. There's just a right way and a wrong way to do it (cough, cough, Chris in Lake Stevens). Because both are outstanding running backs with the physical build and skill sets to be successful running backs at the next level.

Sankey had more total yards and more touchdowns. Carey had more yards per game and 10 fewer zero or negative rushing plays (Sankey had 45, Carey 35). We won’t get into the debate of playing time because I know Sankey sat the second half of some games and Carey missed a game, etc. etc. Carey had more carries because his team didn’t have the passing attack that Washington did. The Huskies averaged 271.3 yards through the air per game with 24 touchdowns. Arizona had just 186.8 passing yards per game with 14 touchdowns. Washington leaned heavily on Sankey, but I think we can all agree that Arizona leaned more heavily on Carey.

The little separation that exists in my mind is because of Carey’s consistency. I broke this down in a column earlier this month and essentially Carey did his best work -- more than 20 yards above his average -- against the top competition.

Sankey and Carey had six games this year that involved common opponents: Oregon, ASU, California, Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. In those games Sankey averaged 144 yards with eight total touchdowns. Against the same competition, Carey rushed for 152.5 yards with 11 touchdowns.

Sankey was outstanding. But his overall season takes a hit from the ASU game (13 carries, 22 yards) and, yes, the fact that Carey’s team beat Oregon and he was a huge reason why has to weigh in.

Again, this is a Fujis vs. Honey Crisp discussion. But when you look at overall consistency -- essentially zero bad statistical games for Carey -- the fact that he did better against head-to-head competition and that he was at his best against tougher defenses, I think that justifies making a case for him as the best back in the league.

Weston in Costa Mesa, Calif. writes: Hello Kevin, I was curious to know what your view is on the state of USC football going into the next few seasons. Where does the program go if Sark doesn’t work out and is he in the hot seat right away if he doesn’t deliver in the first year (by deliver I mean anything less than an 8 win season).ThanksWestonps. I’m a Stanford fan living in a USC ruled area and everybody is talking about this.

Kevin Gemmell: This is sort of a two-parter. The first part, the state of USC football over the next few seasons, is essentially asking what do I think Steve Sarkisian can do for the program. The second part is if he doesn’t succeed, how quick will he get the hook.

I can’t imagine that if he only wins seven games in his first year that Pat Haden would put him on the hot seat. Haden showed an amazing amount of patience with Lane Kiffin and gave him the opportunity to right the ship in 2013. When it was clear the ship wasn’t being righted, he made his move.

This was a high-profile hire for USC and for Haden. A lot of eyes will be on this decision for the next few years. And my best bet is that Haden is going to do everything possible to convince people he got his guy.

As for how they’ll do? Well, there are some really, really talented players on both sides of the ball. And it was pretty clear that the Trojans underachieved with Kiffin as their head coach because they clearly had the talent to rip off five in a row and beat the No. 4 team in the country in Stanford.

We’ve said this before … USC is a brand. It is always going to attract high-profile recruits simply because it’s USC. You combine that with a bulldog of a recruiter in Sarkisian and you have to expect the Trojans will be just fine.

The question is what happens once he does get those elite athletes into the program. How does he develop the talent? How does he handle the X’s and O’s? He did an amazing job of bringing Washington back to respectability. But he never got them into the elite class. Perhaps with a few more years in Seattle he would have? We’ll never know. But that certainly plants a lingering question about what he can do at USC.

I think given the way the South sets up for the next few years, USC could certainly win it. Or ASU could repeat. Or UCLA could win its third division in four years. Or Arizona could make a run when their potential All-Universe scout team starts playing in games.

The South is so wide open right now that there really isn’t one clear-cut team that is a favorite. And I think USC has to be considered in that mix. The Trojans could win the South next year. Or they could finish fourth in the division.

I’m willing to give Sark and Haden the benefit of the doubt that they can get USC moving in the right direction. Sark might not be the biggest name nationally, but he has the pedigree that fits very well with the culture in Southern California.

Peter in Washington writes: Did you intentionally leave off the second common opponent between BYU and UW? Both teams played FCS Idaho State year as well as Boise State.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer would have been yes, it was intentional, because Idaho State is an FCS team and it wasn’t worth mentioning. But truth be told, I just missed it. So thanks for keeping me honest. And in the interest of getting all of the information out there, Washington beat Idaho State 56-0 on Sept. 21. BYU beat the Bengals 59-13 on Nov. 16.

Mike in Boston writes: I thought I'd give you a heads up that you came in fifth in the Cardboard's (an independently run Stanford fan community) "Predict the Score" game for predicting Stanford's game outcomes. We entered the predicted scores from your weekly post on Pac-12 games. Note, Miller sits all the way down at No. 15.

Kevin Gemmell: Awesome! Had no idea you guys were doing that. Since I finished 10 spots ahead of Ted, I think it’s fair that the next 10 rounds of non-alcoholic eggnog are on him.

Sun Devil Ric in San Diego writes: I thought I understood the politics of trophies and All-American teams, but I guess I'm still clueless. Why did ASJ win the Mackey award, but isn't named on a single All-American team yet?

Kevin Gemmell: You understand them? Really? Please share. Because I've been at this a long time and I still don't know.

Tight end was a deep position this year. And ASJ did get named third-team AA in the AP All-American team. Like every single postseason award, there is a level of subjectivity that is tough to comprehend because it's different for everyone. I wish I could climb into the minds of the voters and give you a clear-cut explanation for why things are the way they are when it comes to postseason awards. But I can't.

All I can say is I think the Mackey folks got it right.

Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Great work by you and your partner Miller on the ESPN.com AA team. I think the Pac was well represented, and that's testimony to you and Ted spreading the good word and fighting the good fight. Well done. Happy HolidaysRC

Kevin Gemmell: Back atcha Ryan. There will never be a perfect postseason list. And I would have liked to see Anthony Barr on our list also. But the fact that Barr appears on others, as does Trent Murphy, shows just how deep and talented the Pac-12 was this season.

Looking forward to another year of why UCLA is overrated mailbag drops from you. But for now, enjoy the bowl season and the holiday season.

That goes for the rest of you, too. (Yes, Chris in Lake Stevens, even you).

Sark vs. Pete -- the epic debate begins 

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
11:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- If you’re a USC fan, you’ve already heard the news that Washington has hired highly successful former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen as its new head football coach, replacing the departed Steve Sarkisian, who left the Emerald City for the bright lights and glitter of the USC Trojans.

Of course, what makes this all the more tantalizing is the fact that the Trojans did make contact with Petersen regarding its coaching opening. As history has unfolded, USC athletic director Pat Haden decided that Sarkisian was a better fit for the Trojans, which opens the door for even further scrutiny of Haden’s decision down the line.

Sarkisian might be Haden’s answer for the future, a good coach with great recruiting skills and a dynamic personality. Although Sarkisian’s overall record at UW was just above average at 34-29, he did an admirable job resurrecting a Huskies program that was 0-12 the season before he arrived in 2009.

Stuck in the powerful Pac-12 North Division, which features powerhouses Oregon and Stanford, Sarkisian was up against it. For the past four seasons, the Huskies finished with a 5-4 conference record, which doesn’t get you to a BCS bowl and would give you a pink slip at USC faster than you can say Tommy Trojan.


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