LOS ANGELES -- In the aftermath of the loss to Stanford on Saturday night, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin once again preached the need to "finish" as one of the key points for his team.
Kiffin was referring to the fact that USC held a lead over Stanford with three minutes left in regulation but was unable to come away with a victory. He could have just as easily been talking about the final stretch of the season, however, because there is much to be gained for the Trojans in their remaining games.
Today is the first day of November and, as all USC fans know, there will be no December football for the Trojans (or January, for that matter). That means there are only four more games, four more opportunities for this team to show the spirit and fight that has been readily on display in recent weeks.
The national media reviews of USC's performance against the Cardinal were as glowing as could be for a team that lost a game, as most everyone recognized the contest for what it was: a truly competitive matchup between two teams that fought hard through three overtime periods.
It is important for the Trojans to capitalize on that momentum and continue to build for the future. It's not enough to reflect on the experience of last Saturday and think that USC is "back" on the national college football scene. In order for the Trojans to truly reclaim their spot as an elite team, they must go out and do it again, and again, and again. Consistently putting on those kinds of performances is what separates the top programs, and that will be the next step for the Trojans.
This isn't about playing for a bowl game or a spot in the Pac-12 title game. This is about a USC program that has seen a rough patch -- for reasons which have been thoroughly discussed through the past few years -- and now has a unique opportunity to reclaim the kind of fundamental football style for which the Trojans have long been known.
It's important to recognize that this team is still a work in progress and, as good as the last two weeks have been, we have seen others before in similar spots. Think back to 2005, with the "Bush Push" game against Notre Dame. How much praise was lavished on Charlie Weis after the Irish played the Trojans tough in that game? Heck, Weis was given a contract extension based on that game, and how did that turn out? Jeff Tedford and Cal were thought to be turning the corner so many seasons ago after one victory against USC and a close game the next season in the Coliseum. That one hasn't exactly panned out either.
The point to be made here is that these next four games on the USC schedule will go a long way toward really knowing where things are with Kiffin and the program. Here's a look at what is at stake for the Trojans with each of these matchups:
Colorado -- Yes, the Buffs are bad and this should be a victory for the Trojans, but it's important not to slip up. Go to Boulder, play well, get the win and come home to get ready for Washington.
Washington -- Don't be fooled by this one at all. Sark and his Huskies have beaten USC twice in a row and they are more than capable of doing it again. A Trojans victory here would exorcise some demons and be a nice launching pad for Oregon.
Oregon -- This could be the game of the season for the Trojans. With USC's play right now, it should be confident that it can go into Eugene and come away with a victory. Now all you have to do is go up there and do it.
UCLA -- Nothing more needs to be said here. It's the final home game of the season for a USC team that has won over the hearts of fans. A bonus: a chance to put another loss on the Bruins. What more could the Trojans ask for?
There is much to be gained in this final month, both in terms of the 2011 season and setting a foundation for the future. For Kiffin and the Trojans, it will be all about finishing things the right way.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.