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Thursday, August 7, 2008
Best case-worst case: USC

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

You know how a season can be magical? Every Pac-10 team has experienced that at least once over the past 14 years.

And USC in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 ... Or is that just 2003 and 2004?

(Perhaps that's a bonus for rooting for any team other than USC: The Trojans magic threshold these days is national championship or bust.)

On the other side of the coin: Know how a season can be just dreadful?

Every Pac-10 team has experienced it during that same span.

So let's look at how magic or disaster might play out for each Pac-10 team in 2008, starting with USC.

Best Case: USC wins national title

Any concerns that USC might start flat at Virginia while looking ahead to Ohio State are quickly flattened by an overwhelming show of force in Charlottesville. Mark Sanchez splits four TD passes between Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton and Stafon Johnson rushes 15 times for 142 yards and a score as the Trojans pitch a 42-0 shutout. The Cavaliers gain just 104 total yards and afterward accuse USC linebacker Rey Maualuga of eating one of their tailbacks. Maualuga denies the allegation (hic).

That sets up the 2008 season's Game of the Century, but it turns out to be no game at all. The Trojans speed overwhelms the Buckeyes in a 28-10 victory, and ESPN.com's servers are similarly overwhelmed by I-told-you-so messages left for a certain Pac-10 blogger who predicted otherwise.

The Trojans proceed to rumble unscathed through their remaining schedule, though Arizona becomes the first team to score more than 20 points on their dominant defense. Stanford also proves surprisingly stout, refusing to be cowed by the whole "revenge" angle the media relentlessly works before the game. Charlie Weis has Notre Dame dress in green head-to-toe, but USC throttles the Irish 66-3. The Trojans then serenade Weis with, "It's not easy being green," as he slinks off the field.

In the season finale, UCLA sprints into the halftime locker room excited about a 10-10 tie. Sanchez then splits four second-half touchdown passes between freshman WR Brice Butler and RB Joe McKnight as the Trojans roll for a 41-10 victory.

In Miami for the national title game, Florida fans go nuts when USC DT Fili Moala calls Tim Tebow a "poor-man's Jake Locker." The Trojans then sack Tebow six times and hold him to 17 total yards in a 31-0 USC victory.

After the game, a wide-eyed Urban Meyer admits that USC is the greatest team in the history of the world. SEC fans, coaches and administrators gather in a secret meeting in Birmingham and agree that SEC teams shouldn't play USC ever again because "they'd just open a can of whup-butt on us."

Worst Case: Dynasty implodes

USC looks flat and unfocused at Virginia, and coach Pete Carroll yanks QB Mark Sanchez after his third interception. Backup Mitch Mustain comes off the bench to salvage a 21-20 victory, but center Kristofer O'Dowd is lost for the season to a back injury, the first of seven starters who will suffer season-ending injuries.

With Ohio State coming to town, Carroll announces that he remains pumped and that Sanchez will again start. Mustain tells the LA Daily News that Carroll is going the way of the Song Girls. Ohio State sprints past the Trojans 24-7, and the nation mourns the Buckeyes almost certain selection to another BCS title game.

On Monday, Mustain announces he's transferring. Carroll tells reporters that he remains pumped but that Aaron Corp will start at quarterback at Oregon State.

The 3-0, 12th-ranked Beavers and their completely rebuilt front-seven dominate the Trojans struggling offensive line, sacking Corp seven times in a 17-3 win.

Carroll says he's a little less pumped than normal.

On Wednesday, the NCAA announces major sanctions against the USC athletic program for violations uncovered in the Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo investigations.

Carroll admits he is no longer pumped. The Trojans fall to 3-4 with a 35-20 loss at No. 14 Arizona. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops shows he's pumped by making like a revival preacher on the sidelines.

The Trojans appear to right themselves with wins over Washington, California and Stanford (sweet revenge!) but Notre Dame and genius coach Charlie Weis expose the overrated USC defense in a 47-21 win. Weis calls timeout with 0:03 remaining so he can throw one last touchdown pass.

A decidedly unpumped Carroll shakes hands with a decidedly pumped Rick Neuheisel after UCLA showcases a brutal running game behind a dominant offensive line, rushing for 353 yards in a 28-24 victory.

Super-recruit and USC commit Mat Barkley announces he's changed his mind and will sign with UCLA.

Carroll is hired as the defensive coordinator for the Phoenix Cardinals.

"I'm pumped," he says.

(OK, all that's sort of silly ... USC's worst case is a loss to Ohio State and a second-place finish in the Pac-10 -- with sanctions handed down over the Bush matter by the NCAA. And Carroll bolts for the NFL).