The notion that USC merely reloads talent ad infinitum despite the departure of a bevy of starters was cast into doubt this season, and it will be tested further -- unexpectedly -- in the Emerald Bowl on Saturday.
With starting running back Joe McKnight's eligibility for the bowl game against Boston College already in question due to an alleged NCAA rules violation, the school announced Tuesday that tight end Anthony McCoy, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and defensive tackle Averell Spicer have been ruled academically ineligible.
McCoy and Smith are both starters and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Spicer is a key reserve. McCoy and Spicer are both seniors, so their USC careers are over.
"We're really disappointed these guys didn't come through," USC coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. "They had all the help in the world to get it done and they didn't do it."
How many times do you read a statement from a coach that was released through the school and sense genuine chagrin? In that single sentence, you can feel Carroll's disappointment.
So, if USC isn't able to resolve the McKnight situation over the next couple of days -- and expect an athletic department already under NCAA investigation to be as cautious as possible -- the Trojans will face Boston College down three starters and a reserve on their defensive line.
Not good for any team, even USC.
McCoy will be replaced by sophomore Rhett Ellison -- USC is already thin at tight end because of Blake Ayles' knee injury. Redshirt freshman Matt Kalil will replace Smith, a sophomore. Kalil is a major talent -- his older brother Ryan was was an All-American center for USC and now plays for the Carolina Panthers -- and he is expected to be fill one of the three vacancies on the Trojans offensive line next year.
As if USC falling from seven-time Pac-10 champion to four-loss Emerald Bowl team wasn't enough, the Trojans are now burdened with major off-field issues, which are forcing key players out of the lineup.
Heading into the bowl season, the main question was how motivated and focused USC would be against Boston College in a mid-level bowl game. That question is even more relevant now.
When a team is down and caught in a whirlwind of issues, it can either tear apart or come together.
Many will be curious to see what USC will do on Saturday against a BC team that surely sees blood in the water.