Only two days remain until fall camp begins for the Trojans on Thursday, Aug. 4. We've been previewing the biggest questions that USC hopes to answer in the monthlong period between camp and the season opener in a series since last week. Read the first eight questions-and-answers here.
The ninth question is this: In 2010, many argued that USC's play went downhill once the Trojans suffered a loss and were unofficially eliminated from the whole undefeated conversation. Is that going to be an issue in 2011?
First off, to address what probably qualifies as a misconception: USC's first loss last season was to Washington, at home, in early October. That was not one of the Trojans' better games. USC's second loss was to Stanford, on the road, the next week in October. That actually was one of the Trojans' better games, as they went toe-to-toe with a team that went on win its next seven games and smack Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
In fact, aside from their loss to Oregon the previous week, that was the Cardinal's closest game all season long. After the USC game, they outscored opponents 264-84 the rest of the season.
That goes to show that, in that case, at least, USC didn't struggle to get up for competition after losing a game. The Trojans also went out and handily beat Cal the next week at home, for good measure. But the Oregon State and Notre Dame games late in the season, played with three and four losses, were other stories.
Here's the thing: It's only natural. Any 18-to-22-year-old collegiate athlete should be expected to lose a little built-in adrenaline with nothing to play for in terms of potential bowls -- you can't fault USC so much for that. And that's one of the inherent challenges in the NCAA's two-year postseason ban.
But the real, actual challenge for USC's coaching staff is to find a way to motivate in spite of that. Going for the perfect, undefeated year is the natural thing to pitch to players now, before the season has started. But what happens if and/or when the Trojans lose in the first two months this season, whether it's to Arizona or Stanford at home or Notre Dame on the road? Because, while not guaranteed, there's a good chance of at least one of those happening.
In short, this needs to be adequately addressed before it happens. One of the biggest problems with the Washington loss last season was that, come the next week of practice, so many of the Trojans seemed utterly befuddled that it had happened. The refrain all fall camp and through the first month of the season was that they would simply try to show the NCAA they belonged by going undefeated and causing much poll-voting controversy.
The players all believed it, or they all put on convincing faces and said they did, at least. But their faces weren't half as convincing the week after the Washington, when they said they would now go from trying to go undefeated to trying to run the table with just one loss.
A good approach from Lane Kiffin and Co. would be to emphasize both sides of the coin during fall camp: Sure, try to win every game, but understand that the difference between a 10-2 and 8-4 record is the same as that between 12-0 and 10-2.
That's it for today. We'll reveal our final question Wednesday and, later in the day, preview USC's final matchup of the 2011 season against rival UCLA.