Archive for the ‘USC Trojans’ Category

The Burden of Proof, From Balogun to Bush

August 20, 2009

In the grand scheme of the 2009 college football season, Mike Balogun doesn’t mean much. The hardscrabble 25-year-old ex-construction worker is no Butkus Award winner, but he would have given Oklahoma some nice depth at middle linebacker. Maybe he could have boosted his stock with the pro scouts and won a spot somewhere in the back of the pro draft.

Instead of fighting for a starting spot on the Sooner defense, though, Balogun is now fighting an uphill battle against the most rigid of rigid bureaucracies, the NCAA.
Over what, exactly? Well, according to court filings submitted in his lawsuit against the Association, there’s a box score floating around the Internet that says Balogun played in a semi-pro football game. There’s also the recollection of a former assistant coach that Balogun suited up for the Maryland Marauders of the North American Football League after his 21st birthday.
That’s it.

That was enough evidence to lead the powers that be to rule Balogun ineligible for the season. Nevermind that Balogun says he didn’t do it. Nevermind that the team’s former owner says Balogun didn’t do it. Nevermind that the league’s former commissioner says Balogun didn’t do it, the box score being presented against Balogun is unreliable and the league records don’t show Balogun playing. Nevermind that we’re talking about a fly-by-night semi-pro where it looks like the game is just a warm-up for the beers afterwards. Nevermind that the NCAA already cleared Balogun before he suited up for OU last year.

In the grand scheme of USC’s return to glory earlier this decade, Reggie Bush meant a lot. The decade’s most dynamic player helped propel the Trojans to conference and national titles, winning a Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in history along the way. When he was done dazzling college fans, he took his act to the pros, where he signed a lucrative contract as a high draft pick.

Since then, of course, accusations have surfaced that Bush and his family accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit benefits during his three years in Troy. The people who have come forward against Bush claim to have all kinds of documentation backing up their stories. Bush himself hasn’t exactly done much to defend himself against the allegations, reaching an out-of-court settlement with one of his accusers who was suing the now New Orleans Saints running back.

Yet, the NCAA has been investigating the USC athletic department for going on four years now, supposedly tying even more scandalous allegations against the men’s basketball program into the Bush investigation. So far, nothing.

If the case against Balogun is supposed to be strong, the case against Bush looks airtight. To be fair, we have no idea what kind of case has been presented in USC’s defense. (Assuming a case has been presented at all.) However, that doesn’t make the difference in apparent standards of proof any less glaring.

Of course, there are some important differences in the two cases—chiefly that Balogun met with the NCAA in-person to explain his situation, while Bush has blown the Association off. There’s also the matter of OU willingly handing over the goods that put the nail in Balogun’s coffin, while USC appears to be doing its part to vigorously observe the NCAA doing its digging.

Oh, and one other difference: Balogun is a backup linebacker who few outside of Oklahoma will miss, while USC is one of college football’s golden geese.
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Should ‘SC Tank 2009?

August 17, 2009

If you could tear yourself away from the interminable coverage of “unanimous-gate” a few weeks back, the Pac-10’s publicity campaign during its media days provided one of the more interesting stories of the offseason.
Coach after coach stepped to the dais and proclaimed the conference the best in the country. On its face, it may seem like typical posturing. However, the offensive on the part of the West Coasters clearly reflected a well-coordinated plan to boost the conference’s profile nationwide.

Why now?

Well, the question of whether or not USC should have been snubbed from the BCS title game the past few years has been debated ad nauseam. The Trojans keep on rolling out-of-conference opponents and churning out NFL draft picks. However, if you’re looking for the main reason why the Trojans end up on the short end of the stick, it’s undoubtedly the company they keep.

Fair or not, there’s no denying the national perception that the Big 12 and SEC are a cut above the Pac-10. Last year, the fact that the upstart Mountain West Conference owned the conference in non-conference games certainly supported that idea. A more persistent problem would be the conference’s crappy TV contract putting its teams behind the eight ball.
Most importantly, though, Homerism suspects USC’s seemingly permanent place atop the conference standings is perpetuating the notion that the Trojans’ conference mates are closer to the Big East than the Big 12. Every conference has its elite programs, but none have put the league title in the same kind of stranglehold as ‘SC, winner of seven straight championships. Some may interpret that streak as a sign of just how great of a run Pete Carroll’s team is on. The flip side: the rest of the conference is watered-down. Thus, when USC drops a game to Oregon State or UCLA, it’s a major black mark on the resumé.
(Columnist George Schroeder has put forth a similar argument. Dr. Saturday contends that the Pac-10’s monolith simply needs a foil, a la Oklahoma and Texas. If the esteemed Doc’s assessment is correct, though, it seems logical that another team winning the conference would be a good place to start.)
As unappealing as this may seem to the “win forever” crowd, a conference championship for a team like Oregon actually could go a long way raising the national opinion of the Pac-10. And what better time for the Trojans to tank than now? After all, USC is breaking in a brand new quarterback, re-stocking almost its entire defense and facing a brutal schedule. As talented as Carroll’s players are, the odds of a national championship this season are stacked against them. If the ultimate goal is unattainable, why not let another school in on the action for once?
Tanking or not, the Trojans’ run of Pac-10 titles is in jeopardy. California looks particularly strong, and the Ducks could give USC a real push. Plus, programs like Arizona, Stanford and UCLA appear to be in an up cycle and should be a stiffer test than they’ve been in the past.
We’ve heard that line before, though. Despite any misgivings about the Trojans, USC still remains the consensus favorite for the Pac-10 crown with good reason. Those slivers of doubt do open the door for a plausible hiccup, though.
Maybe winning forever actually involves losing every once in a while.

A New Twist in the USC Investigation

July 30, 2009

The NCAA investigation into the USC athletic department took yet another turn today, as the Los Angeles Times reported that the football team had employed an outside consultant to advise on the Trojans’ special teams play. In fact, coach Pete Carroll confirmed today at the Pac-10 media day that he has brought in multiple ex-NFL coaches in consulting roles after receiving approval from the university’s compliance department.

Sounds innocuous enough, but, like everything else, the Association actually has rules governing this kind of thing (bylaw 11.7.1.1.1.4):

“An institution may use or arrange for a temporary consultant to provide in-service training for the coaching staff, but no interaction with student-athletes is permitted unless the individual is counted against the applicable coaching limits. An outside consultant may not be involved in any on- or off-field or on- or off-court coaching activities (e.g., attending practices and meetings involving coaching activities, formulating game plans, analyzing video involving the institution’s or opponent’s team) without counting the consultant in the coaching limitations in that sport.”

Sounds like a clear violation, but I guess it depends on the definition of “coaching activities.” In the end, it may come down to savvy.

USC (Finally) Comments on Investigation

June 12, 2009

USC has decided to speak out about the investigation into improper benefits allegedly received by Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. ESPN blogger Ted Miller is right when he says there’s no breaking news in the statements from university official Todd Dickey and athletic director Mike Garrett. To Homerism, the biggest takeaway is that USC is claiming accusers Lloyd Lake and Louis Johnson are lying about the school declining to interview them. Also, note that USC appears to have initiated its internal investigation after the allegations were made and the NCAA had opened its own inquiry. From a compliance standpoint, that may not sit well with the Association.

From a purely tactical standpoint, I would have done this much sooner. At this point, it appears as though the media pontificating about the case finally goaded the Trojans into addressing its stance on the charges. 
If there’s one major issue that USC should have in its favor here, it’s credibility. Yet, by refusing to give any insight on its position, the school ceded some of that advantage, in my opinion. It’s kind of like that detective rule of thumb about guilty people sleeping soundly when they’re caught, while innocents scream their heads off. On top of all that, the delay in responding smacks of crisis management 101 strategies for dealing with a scandal.
In theory, public opinion should matter little to the NCAA. Good luck selling that now, though, seeing as Alabama got nailed today for a textbook scandal–not exactly flat-screen TVs and rent-free housing, as has been alleged in the USC case. If USC is cleared of wrongdoing, the Trojans better have damn good, irrefutable evidence that their accusers are lying. Otherwise, conspiracy theorists will have a field day, and the public will view this as the ultimate proof of the Association’s panty-waist “authority.”

Floyd’s Downfall

June 10, 2009

Today’s news that Tim Floyd has resigned as USC head basketball coach could be interpreted a number of ways in relation to the allegations against the Trojan athletic department:

1. He really feels he “can no longer offer the level of enthusiasm to (his) duties that is deserved by the university.” (By the way, Floyd’s statement reads like he hasn’t written anything since he was 18.)
2. Floyd did what he has been accused of.
3. The USC brass is making Floyd the fall guy for the current scandal. His ouster is a gesture to the NCAA in an effort to take some heat off the athletic department. Note the tacked-on comments from Todd Dickey, USC’s senior vice president of administration, regarding USC’s participation in the ongoing investigation. It’s probably the most in-depth statement yet from the university about the investigation.
4. A combination of 2 and 3.
As to how all this relates to the USC football program, the answer is, Who knows?
Obviously, this smacks of damage control on the part of ‘SC. If the Southern Cal athletic department is on the hook for the dreaded “lack of institutional control,” jettisoning Floyd at this point could provide a signal of how athletic director Mike Garrett and the school’s administration intend to address the potential NCAA charges. Specifically, Floyd himself was corrupt, but his transgressions don’t reflect a systemic problem with the school’s athletic department. Now that Floyd is out of the picture, USC should be allowed to carry on as usual. (Read: Hands off the football team.)
Whether or not the NCAA would buy that argument, though, is an entirely different matter. For example, if Floyd’s departure signifies a veiled admission of his guilt, would that lend credence to the notion that agents and runners also were patronizing the football sidelines and locker room? What about the fact that the alleged rules violations supposedly took place within a relatively short timeframe? Such inferences may not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be enough for the NCAA.
Whatever the case may be, Floyd’s unceremonious departure from Troy makes him look guilty as hell. It doesn’t exactly look too swell for USC football, either.

Trojans Choose not to Speak

June 1, 2009

Adding to the mountains of media coverage, today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times features an inquiry into one of the more curious aspects of the USC-NCAA firestorm: the university’s code of silence regarding the nasty allegations leveled against its football and basketball programs.

(The frequent references to the Sooners’ last run-in with the amateurism patrol struck me as embarrassing, humorous and, somehow, slightly vindicating all at the same time.)

Times reporter Paul Pringle offers a thorough analysis of the situation, and, to me, the most interesting takeaway is that ‘SC would be within its NCAA-sanctioned rights to mount a public defense against the charges. But, invoking the Seinfeld precedent, the Trojans choose not to speak.
Times columnist Kurt Streeter writes today that he fears USC’s response reflects the disheartening mindset that success on the playing field means not having to answer to anyone. USC, on the other hand, says its lack of response reflects a desire to maintain the “integrity” of NCAA investigations.
The school’s silence hasn’t stopped the army of Troy from decrying the media feeding frenzy surrounding the story, though. (I wrote about this wholly predictable reaction from Trojan Nation a few weeks back for Tilting at Windmills.) Nor has it prevented ‘SC haters from piling on.
Personally, I don’t think it’s a good thing when one of college football’s glamour programs gets nailed for major infractions. Doesn’t matter if it’s OU, Alabama or USC. Yet, as a fan of a program that has left me all too accustomed to trying to explain away a preponderance of damaging evidence, I can recognize desperate rationalizing when I see it. 
I’ll close with some food for thought. If all the allegations against USC’s football and basketball programs are entirely off-base, why aren’t Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo taking their accusers to court?

You’re Irreplaceable

May 20, 2009

Preseason prognosticating requires us to make our predictions under the ceteris paribus assumption. So, there’s nothing like a little–or really big–wrench in the works to throw things out of kilter. You know what I mean: injuries, suspensions, scandals, etc. 

For almost any contender, the loss of just one cog in the machine can dash national championship hope, even if it’s just for one quarter of one game. Since we can’t foresee a star quarterback being thrown off the team or a playmaking linebacker blowing out his ACL, how about a little risk management? Below are the most indispensable players in college football for 2009.

Just ask the Sooners how jarring the loss of one key player can be. When MLB Ryan Reynolds went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the second half of the 2008 Red River Shootout, the Texas offense took control of the game. OU spent the rest of the season trying to plug that hole, with varying degrees of success.
It seems obvious that a Heisman-winning quarterback would be a major loss for a title contender. Losing Bradford poses a particularly scary scenario for OU coach Bob Stoops, though. OU’s backup signal callers consist of redshirt freshman Landry Jones and early enrollee Drew Allen. Both may turn out to be players, but neither is ready to take the Sooners to the promised land. Without Bradford, OU is the third-best team in the Big 12 South.
Arkansas transfer Williams brought a flair for the big play to USC’s offense in 2008, emerging as the Trojans’ top receiver early in the season. He averaged 15 yards per catch and scored 9 touchdowns on the season, including a stellar Rose Bowl against Penn State’s highly regarded defense: 10 catches, 162 yards and a TD.
Aside from Williams, USC’s receiving corp is long on talent but much shorter on proven producers. Junior wideout Ronald Johnson came on strong last season, but he doesn’t appear to be the kind of go-to guy Williams is. Not to mention, a trusted security blanket like the rangy Williams should help bring along a green quarterback.
On a roster with loads of talent, Williams is as close to irreplaceable as you’ll find in Troy.
A pass rusher may seem like an odd choice for Texas’ most irreplaceable piece, seeing as QB Colt McCoy executes the Longhorn offense so well. McCoy has super stud … backing him up, though.
Kindle, meanwhile, is expected to replace the departed Brian Orakpo as UT’s terror off the edge. In a pass-heavy conference like the Big 12, the ability to pressure the quarterback is paramount to a defense’s success. Without Kindle, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp would be counting on a gaggle of unproven youngsters to bring the heat.
Thought I’d say Tim Tebow for Florida, right? He’s an outstanding football player. But what would happen if Tebow went down with an injury before the season? Well, there’s talented backup John Brantley waiting in the wings. There would be a drop-off.
But would it be the same as if Spikes went down. He’s like a quarterback for the Gator D, and he’s a tackling machine. Could Florida’s second-stringers fill in for Spikes with the same aplomb as Tebow’s understudy? I’m skeptical.

A New Venue

May 15, 2009

Homerism has forged a blogging alliance with Tilting at Windmills, another OU blog and member of the Barking Carnival blog ring. I’ll be posting stuff over there every so often, but I still plan on this continuing to be my main forum for the time being.

For my debut on TaW, I offer my thoughts on how USC fans should prepare for the NCAA storm gathering ahead of them. Enjoy!

Pete Carroll Can’t Win for Winning

April 29, 2009

With fall feeling so far away and precious little else left to write about, “the media” are trying to mine every last nugget out of last weekend’s NFL draft. The dominant storyline emerging? An astounding number of Trojans taken–11 in all.

As documented by Inside USC’s Scott Wolf, ESPN’s draft coverage turned into a Trojan lovefest (he he), including a Homeric paean to Troy from analyst Herm Edwards. Similarly, Dr. Saturday interpreted the weekend’s goings-on as confirmation that Pete Carroll’s team stands above all as the “empirical recruiting monolith” of college football. Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times also marveled at the migration from USC to the pros.

Yet, Dufresne, Wolf and the Doc also nodded to a more cynical view of the Trojan pipeline. Tom Dienhart of Rivals just comes write out and says it: USC’s whole has been less than its parts. ‘SC fans my find this assertion on Dienhart’s part pretty objectionable:

“USC’s Jimmys and Joes have been more desirable than any other school’s in the past five NFL drafts. Over the weekend, the Trojans paced all schools with 11 players selected in the NFL draft. Since the 2005 draft, the Trojans lead the nation with 43 players selected.

While that’s an amazing amount of talent, realize that over that five-season span, USC has won just one national championship – in 2004.”

Then, there’s this from Dienhart: “USC has dominated the Pac-10, winning a league-record seven consecutive conference crowns. But the Trojans could have won so much more, and have missed out on stamping themselves as the premier program in the nation this decade. Instead, that honor belongs to either Florida or Oklahoma.” (I love the Sooners, but it’s tough to argue at this point that OU should be ranked a rung above USC given this.)

Credit Dienhart for having the stones to challenge conventional wisdom regarding the Trojans. Like many other hardcore college football fans, Homerism tires of what seems to be excessive fawning over certain programs and personalities, such as Carroll and Tim Tebow. But, geez, Tom, what more do you want the Trojans to do?

Last I checked, USC has the best winning percentage of any D-I program during the last four years. During that period, the Trojans have won their conference every year and a slew of BCS bowl games. They’ve also obliterated every non-conference foe, save Texas, that has stood in their way.

Obviously, Carroll’s team has suffered some bad losses along the way, but who hasn’t? In case you haven’t heard, one loss is the new undefeated when it comes to crowning a national championship. If anything, when USC loses to Stanford or Oklahoma loses to Colorado or Florida drops one to Ole Miss, these games stand as testaments to just how hard it is to keep a team on point for an entire year.

None of this is to say that USC has gotten screwed at any point in time during the past three years. The Trojans have been subjected to the same nebulous BCS system that everyone else has. The results always have been justifiable.

Instead, take the USC phenomenon of “more talent, no championships” as evidence of just how hard it really is to win a national championship. There are just so many butterfly effect variables at play to determine who even gets a shot at the crown. So when you do win one, treasure it. For Pete Carroll and everyone else, tomorrow’s another day. All you can do is keep on keeping on.

Deja Vu: Leinart, Part Deux?

April 26, 2009

Spring of 2003: USC names redshirt sophomore Matt Leinart as its starting quarterback for the upcoming season. Leinart beats out highly touted redshirt junior Matt Cassell and freshman early enrollee John David Booty.

Spring of 2009: USC names redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp as its starting quarterback for the upcoming season. Corps beats out highly touted redshirt junior Mitch Mustain and freshman early enrollee Matt Barkley.
Spooky…