Big questions facing USC

A loss to Oregon could lead to an offseason of uncertainty for the Trojans

Updated: November 1, 2012, 5:30 PM ET
By Rod Gilmore | ESPN Insider
Lane Kiffin Louis Lopez/CSMLane Kiffin and USC have failed to meet expectations so far this season.

A friend of mine who was a professional athlete was once given the nickname "Boo-Yay" by his teammates. That's because fans would cheer him one moment and boo him the next. This season, the USC Trojans can relate to that.

In early September, the Trojans were tabbed as the No. 1 team in the land and expected to play in the BCS National Championship Game. QB Matt Barkley was anointed as the Heisman Trophy front-runner, and his receivers -- junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee -- were hailed as arguably the greatest receiving tandem in the history of college football. Head coach Lane Kiffin was lauded as the genius who figured out how to thwart the impact of NCAA sanctions and scholarship reductions.

However, when I wrote in the preseason that the Trojans would not win a national championship this season but were good enough to win 10 games and make a BCS bowl game, Trojan Nation took umbrage -- I was even invited on an L.A. radio station to explain my blasphemous position.

My, how things have changed. Last week, after suffering its second loss (at the hands of unranked Arizona), the boo birds let the Trojans have it. Trojan Nation now complains on blogs about a "wasted season" and mocks Barkley's "unfinished business" rationale he used last year in announcing his reason for returning to USC instead of cashing in his NFL ticket. And former USC head coach John Robinson chastised the Trojans for their propensity for personal fouls, calling those players "selfish or losers." Kiffin's coaching acumen is being called into question, as is his maturity in light of recent media situations.

Oregon and USC face off Saturday in a game that was expected to have national championship implications for both teams, but now only the Ducks are in that race. However, this game remains a huge game for the Trojans. That's because USC's season and future hang in the balance Saturday.

A win Saturday and USC can still achieve what should have been reasonably expected of this team: winning the Pac-12 South Division, amassing 10 wins and having a realistic shot at a BCS bowl game. However, a loss will most likely mean that the program will be facing major question marks heading into next season.

Rod Gilmore

College Football analyst
Rod Gilmore serves as an ESPN studio analyst on SportsCenter and College Football Live, and provides commentary on ESPN's Friday night game telecasts. He writes regularly for ESPN Insider.