After USC's 55-21 loss to Stanford, it seems like everyone in the college football world is trying to figure out what's wrong with Trojan football. I'm going to take a look at a few explanations I've heard in the past few days:
1) Matt Barkley is the problem
First off, Matt Barkley is as good as any true freshman quarterback I've ever seen. He's leagues ahead anyone else I've seen play the position at such a young age.
Secondly, I don't see how you can blame him for any of USC's losses. He didn't play in the Washington loss, and the Trojan defense did nothing to stop Oregon and Stanford.
Third, USC has as little depth at receiver as they've had in years, with the offense desperately missing Damian Williams, tight end Anthony McCoy, and fullback Stanley Havili when they were out.
There's no question Matt Barkley has struggled lately, and some would say he's regressed in recent weeks. I still wonder if Mitch Mustain would have been a better choice (I know Aaron Corp wouldn't have been), and I think the coaching staff has overhyped the freshman. But Barkley has proven himself enough in my eyes, and USC has not lost three games because of him.
2) All of Pete Carroll's good assistants are gone
This is becoming a hip thing to say, but I think it's an unfair scapegoat. I would agree that the offense hasn't been the same since Norm Chow left. But coaches like Ken Norton, Pat Ruel, Todd McNair, Jethro Franklin, and Rocky Seto are either experienced coaches or people who are very familiar with Pete Carroll. Only play-caller Jeremy Bates is really all that new, and I'd argue he's doing a better job than most of his critics.
Any good program is going to lose assistants to other jobs. It comes with the territory. But the names I listed above aren't idiot know-nothing coaches.
3) The defense is horrible
Since the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, the USC defense has barely looked like a facsimile of its former self. Despite having nine new starters, the Trojans didn't give up two touchdowns in a game until Week 6. Since then, Oregon State, Oregon, and Stanford have almost moved the ball at will against USC.
The defense has had some injuries, but that's never hampered USC before. This is an epic collapse that I simply cannot explain. Despite the offense's inconsistencies, I can say the defense has been consistently bad. The talent is there, but I think there has to be a deeper issue.
4) The gap has closed between USC and the other Pac-10 schools
This is true, but it isn't a valid excuse for USC's struggles. Oregon has always had an excellent football program, and as long as they have Nike money flowing in, they'll get great players. Mike Riley and Jim Harbaugh have done tremendous jobs at Oregon State and Stanford in recent years, while Jeff Tedford still has a good program at Cal. Arizona and Washington seem on the rise, and you can never count out Dennis Erickson at Arizona State.
I think USC has actually recruited too much depth at certain positions, and it's led other good players who want more playing time to go elsewhere in the Pac-10. That being said, USC still has considerably more talent than any other Pac-10 team. They've done a great job of recruiting nationally.
The other Pac-10 schools might be more familiar with USC than tough nonconference opponents whom USC routinely pummels. But when you have the better players, you shouldn't lose.
5) The program has become too complacent
I think this a valid concern. In the last few years, I've seen USC players act with a sense of entitlement. I didn't see that in Pete Carroll's first few years when players were trying to prove themselves and the program was building an identity.
I'm sure Pete Carroll is still working his team hard in practice. But a sense of confidence has been replaced by cockiness. And I was horrified to see the way USC gave up in the fourth quarter against Stanford. Personally, I think Pete Carroll needs to establish a new mental approach for his team.
Before people panic too much, it's worth mentioning that USC is 6-3 and not 3-6. Every program, including Florida, Oklahoma, LSU, and Texas has an off-year once in a while. Pete Carroll's consistent excellence has been beyond remarkable. That doesn't excuse this year's disappointments. But it should allow for some perspective. USC football is still as talented as any team in the nation, and it will be back very soon.