Marqise Lee wins first Biletnikoff for USC

•December 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Marqise Lee-USCThe Fred Biletnikoff Award was established in 1994 and is presented to the nation’s top receiver. No Trojan had claimed the award in its first 18 years of existence. Not Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, or Robert Woods, who were all honored as finalists, but returned home empty-handed.  Now in the nineteenth year, USC finally breaks through, with sophomore Marqise Lee named the 2012 Biletnikoff  Award winner.

Lee’s season accomplishments could not be ignore. With one bowl contest remaining, he is the national leader in receptions per game. He also places second, behind Baylor’s Terrance Williams, in receiving yards per game and total receiving yards.  What separates the Trojan wide out from the Baylor Bear is versatility. No player in the country was more dangerous with the ball in his hands, and this is exemplified by Lee’s third-place finish in all-purpose running.

2012 saw Lee establish school and conference records for single-season receptions and yards. He currently stands at 112 receptions, 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. He recorded double-digit receptions in 7 of 12 games, and reached the 100-yard receiving plateau eight times.

Lee became the third Pac 12 receiver to win the Biletnikoff Award, with the last being Oregon State’s Mike Haas in 2005. Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon are the only two-time Biletnikoff winners, which is something Lee will aim for in his junior season. Blackmon edged USC’s Robert Woods in 2011 to claim his second Award.

Sonny Dykes resurfaces in Pac 12

•December 5, 2012 • 1 Comment

Cal-Bears-CheerleadersThe Cal Bears have announced Sonny Dykes as their new head football coach. The hire comes just 15 days after the program parted ways with Jeff Tedford, and four days after Louisiana Tech rejected a bowl invitation.

Dykes spent the last three seasons building the Louisiana Tech football program, and more specifically, the offense.  The Bulldogs led the nation in scoring, while finishing with a record of 9-3. Under Dykes, Tech also spent five weeks in the top-25 rankings, providing evidence of growth under its new leadership.  The program recently made headlines by rejecting an invitation to the Independence bowl, which resulted in the team being left out of the postseason. That headline is soon replaced by the coaching departure and ensuing search.

Cal’s new coach is no stranger to the Pac 12 or one of its reigning leaders.  He had a brief stint as the offensive coordinator at Arizona under Mike Stoops (2007-09), where he installed his version of the spread. The Wildcat offense was lifted to 16th best in the nation in 2008, before falling off to No. 60 in his final season of work.

Dykes also worked with current Washington State coach Mike Leach as a member of the 2000-06 Texas Tech staff. He coordinated the offense and coached receivers for the Raiders, before his departure to join Stoops in the Arizona desert.

By early indications, this is a good hire for a Cal football program that has struggled offensively over the past two seasons. Dykes will inherit some playmakers on the current roster, but success will ultimately be determined by the make-up of his staff.  The Bears will eventually light up the scoreboard, but can they keep others from doing the same?

The new hire welcomes another spread offense to the Pac 12 conference. Of the four new coaches to enter the conference this year, all have implemented a form of the spread, and Dykes will certainly do the same. The conference will now consist of seven such offenses, and USC will play 5 of them annually. That’s just something to keep in mind, as the Trojans continue the search for a new defensive coordinator.

4-star Wide Receiver Decommits

•December 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Eldridge Massington-West MesquiteEldridge Massington has decommitted from the USC class of 2013, and will reopen his recruitment in search of a program that will admit him for the spring semester. The Texas prospect informed the staff of his withdrawal on Monday, after being told that the program had no room for the 6-3, 205-pound receiver for the upcoming term.

Massington missed the entire senior season at West Mesquite while recovering from a torn ACL. In that time, he fulfilled the academic requirements necessary for early graduation, in hopes of landing in Southern California to rehabilitate his knee in the spring. He was informed in a phone call from Lane Kiffin that a program operating with reduced scholarships would not have the necessary space to fulfill his wishes. The change in plan trigger a change of heart, and eventually a change in commitment and college choice.

A year ago, it was Kelvin York that appeared to fall victim to USC reductions. The running back also suffered an ACL tear, which prompted the Trojan staff to reconsider his pledge and force him out. A limited roster alter’s the target area,  and player health will either increase or decrease recruiting priority.

It is rumored that Massington has renewed interest in Arizona State, UCLA, Alabama, and Michigan. The USC class of 2013 has shrank to 16 commitments, with two months remaining before National Signing Day.

 

Ed Orgeron elevates to Assistant Head Coach

•December 4, 2012 • 2 Comments
Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

USC has spun the dial counterclockwise in anticipation of a new hire. With a single click, Ed Orgeron rises to the position of assistant head coach, a post soon to be vacated by Monte Kiffin. The shift ends any speculation of the Trojans possibly making an in-house hire to replace the now vacant defensive coordinator spot.  It also dismisses the theory that Orgeron will finally act as the coordinator of the Southern California defense, being that he officially held the title for the past three years.

Orgeron received the title of defensive coordinator upon his return to USC in 2010, but it was Monte Kiffin, the Assistant Head Coach,  that led the unit. The logical explanation for the twist in labeling was to satisfy the pay scale. The elder Kiffin, who was listed second in command, would also be second only to his son in earnings. A trickle-down effect was then created from there, and the order based on the remaining titles.

The promotion of Orgeron leaves an opening, and payroll check, for a person to be named later. The main targets remain unannounced and unclear, but DeWayne Walker and Randy Shannon would be on my personal list. Walker was one of the original staff members under Pete Carroll, coaching defensive backs in 2001. He would later put together the perfect scheme to defeat his former team, while working as the UCLA defensive coordinator in 2006. He is currently employed as the head coach of New Mexico State. The 46-year old Shannon fielded one of the best units in college football history, while acting as the defensive coordinator  for the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.  He’s currently coaching linebackers for TCU. Shannon also has a connection with Ogeron, who coached the defensive line for the Canes in the same year that Shannon performed as a linebacker in the program.

Puzzling

Monte Kiffin stated that he was under no pressure to resign his position, and did so as a voluntary move. I find this hard to believe, with the sudden departure coming soon after one of the poorest defensive stretches in program history, and just three weeks after Athletic Director Pat Haden guaranteed Lane Kiffin another year, but said they would discuss changes in staff.

Staff change is just one method used by troubled coaches to prolong their tenure. With Monte now out, and the possibility of USC also hiring an offensive coordinator, one can reasonable believe that Lane Kiffin would not survive a repeat performance in 2013, and will enter that season with his name positioned in the upper tier of ‘hot seat’ coaches.

USC will meet Georgia Tech in Hyundai Sun Bowl

•December 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

cheerleaders-Georgia Tech

Selection Sunday was anticlimactic, for the most part, with the games of interest predetermined before ESPN went on the air Sunday night. The BCS championship game participants were already common knowledge, and Southern California’s bowl destination had been rumored for a week.

While Notre Dame and Alabama are set for a championship game collision in January, USC will pack its bags for El Paso Texas in late December. The Trojans accepted an invitation to the Hyundai Sun Bowl, where they will meet Georgia Tech of the ACC.

Southern California (7-5) re-enters the bowl scene after a forced two-year hiatus. It’s the program’s first appearance in this game since a 28-19 loss to TCU in 1998, and will mark the third Sun Bowl appearance for the Trojans overall. Georgia Tech (6-7) appears for a second straight year, after falling to Utah in overtime last December. The Yellow Jackets are making their 15th consecutive bowl appearance, which is the fourth-longest active streak.

USC and Georgia Tech have met just three times prior, with the last occurrence in 1973. The Trojans hold a 2-1 edge in the series. The Yellow Jackets are the designated home team, which will put the Trojans in their road white jerseys. The game will be played on Monday, December 31, with the kickoff set for 11 am PST.

Monte Kiffin resigns his post

•November 30, 2012 • 1 Comment

Monte Kiffin-USCI recently wrote of change on the horizon, and that change has drifted to shore. In an announcement that shocked very few, Monte Kiffin will vacate his current position and USC will search for a replacement.  The 72-year old coordinator will make one final appearance before leaping back into the NFL pool. The Trojans have a bowl game upcoming, and it is there that the elder Kiffin will have his curtain call.

The news comes just five days after Southern California’s loss to Notre Dame in the regular season finale. It was the team’s fourth loss in five games, but the rumblings to expel the program’s defensive coordinator came much sooner.

After poor defensive performance’s against Arizona and Oregon, a fire was set beneath the unit’s leader. UCLA would step forward to add another 30-plus points, and Kiffin was set ablaze.  The Trojans played the first seven contests allowing opponents an average of just seventeen points per game. But there was a dramatic jump in the final five, as the opponent average ballooned to 35.6 points per outing.

Kiffin will now make his services available to NFL, where he earned a Super Bowl Championship as a member of the coaching staff for the Tampa Bay Bucs. USC’s search for a replacement begins today, with rumors of the program adding an offensive coordinator also surfacing.

The foreseeable fate of Troy

•November 28, 2012 • 1 Comment

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The postseason eligible Trojans have one game remaining,  but for all intents and purposes, the USC football season has ended. One game can’t salvage a season of underachievement and suddenly make everything right. A single game can’t lift the program to the mark of preseason expectations. And though one game provides an opportunity to end the season on a high note, it also comes with the potential to establish new lows.

If 2011 signaled the rise of Troy, then the new year trumpets its fall. Though I can’t understand how a 10-2 record became 7-5 in a calendar flip, there were others that not only recognized reasons for the collapse, but also saw it coming.

SI.com, August 11, 2010:

The Bruins have several factors working in their favor entering their third season under Rick Neuheisel. Most notably, their cross-town rival just got hit with heavy NCAA sanctions (10 docked scholarships each of the next three seasons) that, at the very least, will benefit UCLA in head-to-head recruiting. But the Bruins weren’t exactly struggling in that arena: Even coming off a 7-6 season, they landed Rivals.com’s No. 8 class last spring….

…If UCLA, which enters preseason camp with just one projected senior starter, struggles this fall, it could spark grumblings about Neuheisel. But by then the foundation should be in place for either him or a successor to instigate a breakthrough right around the time USC feels the brunt of its sanctions. Remember, the Trojans started the 2000s with 5-7 and 6-6 seasons.—–Andy Staples & Stewart Mandel

We now know that Neuheisel’s successor is Jim Mora, who is just one win away from becoming UCLA’s most successful first-year coach. Snapping a 5-game losing streak to a crosstown rival is just one of his accomplishments, as well as defeating more ranked opponents in his first season (3) than Lane Kiffin (2)  in his three years at USC.

ESPN, August 9, 2010:

Notre Dame and USC remain among the biggest brand names in college football. Yes, that’s true even now, with the Fighting Irish mired in a long stretch of mediocrity and the Trojans reeling from major NCAA sanctions.

So it’s naturally big news when either team changes coaches. When both do it in the same year, it’s really big news.

Last time it happened was in 1941, when Notre Dame hired Frank Leahy and USC hired Sam Barry. Advantage: Irish. Leahy went 87-11-9 and became one of the legends of the game; Barry went 2-6-1 in his only year on the job.

This time, with Lane Kiffin at USC and Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, the coaching changes offer another potential swing in favor of the Golden Dome. And from an Irish perspective, a reversal of rivalry fortunes is frantically overdue.—Pat Forde

Brian Kelly is a proven winner, having now recorded an undefeated regular season at three different stops.  He inherited a Notre Dame program in shambles, coming off record-lows under former head coach Charlie Weis. In three seasons of rebuilding, the Irish have twice defeated the Trojans. And more important for the Notre Dame brass, in the third year of his restoration project,  Kelly is on the brink of a National Championship.

The Trojan cupboard may have been bare when Kiffin arrived, but not nearly as empty as the one in South Bend. Kelly installed a new offense, which meant recruiting and teaching new players to run it. And though he is an offensive mind, he didn’t ignore the makings of a champion or set out to win games in a firefight. It’s a fully restored defense that has launched his team into the BCS championship game. It’s a much maligned defense that has preseason favorite USC currently sitting just two games above average.

In his first year as a starter, defensive end Morgan Breslin was one of the nation’s rising stars. His achievements were noted each week, until USC entered a 5-game stretch against spread offenses.  Talent doesn’t suddenly fade at the season’s midway point.  The junior college transfer became as insignificant during the stretch run as the scheme imposed by his coordinators.

Leonard Williams | Pac 12 Defensive Freshman Of They Year

We can speak of scholarship losses and the sudden 75-man roster, but what USC did not have was shadowed by All it did possess. The Trojans entered the season with the most prolific passer in school history, along with All-Americans at wide receiver. The addition of Silas Redd bolstered the backfield, and they ran behind one of the nation’s top centers in Khaled Holmes, and freshman All-American guard Marcus Martin.

The defense took hits in losing Nick Perry to the NFL and Devon Kennard to injury, but Leonard Williams surfaced as Pac 12 defensive freshman of the year. The aforementioned Breslin was Pac 12 honorable mention.

The Trojans also came equipped  with 2011 freshman All-American linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, who were supported by watch-lists cornerback Nickell Robey and All-American safety T.J. McDonald. But even so, I still see fault pinned on players who supposedly—-and suddenly—-performed with diminished talent, instead of properly placed on the men receiving large sums of money to develop and assist them in reaching goals.

I cursed the authors for premonitions laced in gloom, believing they were bias-based visions used to generate website hits and comments. Today I stare at dated articles that say, “I told you so”, and respond to each with, “yes, you did.”

USC lost to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season for the first time since 1995, and we were given a heads-up before arriving at this point. We can scratch and claw amongst each other, searching for answers for the sudden step back. But numbers don’t lie, and they tell that an average hire will bear average results and stray from a path once paved.

Lane Kiffin is 25-12 overall as the head coach at USC. He has compiled a record of 17-10 in conference, but is only 2-7 versus ranked teams. A figure that leaps to the forefront is his 15 victories to just 2 defeats to opponents that ended seasons with a record of .500 or worse, while breaking even (10-10) versus programs with winning records.  In searching for the biggest difference between this season and the last, you may find it in scheduling.  USC played 8 winning programs during the most recent campaign, which is the most in any season under Kiffin and his staff.

I have no crystal ball or fate predicting deck. All I have is optimism, and the belief that change will come.  I’ve lost faith in the leaders on the field, but maintain trust in the leaders of the program to make the right decisions. USC may lose games, but will never lose my support, just as I will never lose my opinion.

Will it be continuity or new ingredients added to the formula for success? That’s a question that will be answered in the months to come. Southern California has earned its place in college football, and the current position sits below that perch. It’s an uphill battle, and one burdened by the weight of sanctions,  but I believe it’s a climb still manageable with the right pieces in place.

~Fight On