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It’s time for a new era of football

first_imgIn 2007, an unproven coach by the name of Jim Harbaugh took over the Stanford football program — one that had a 1-11 record the year before — and immediately went after the mighty Pete Carroll-led Trojans by openly speculating that Carroll would soon leave USC.“We bow to no man,” Harbaugh said after Carroll rebuked him. “We bow to no program at Stanford University.”Five weeks into the season, Harbaugh took his 1-3 Cardinal into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to face the No. 2 team in the country as 41-point underdogs and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history, winning 24-23. Two years later, Harbaugh did it again, as No. 25 Stanford dropped a record 55 points on No. 11 USC on the road, handing the Trojans a historic 34-point defeat. He infamously went for a 2-point conversion while up by 27 points late in the fourth quarter, then traded “What’s your deal” jabs with Carroll in a half-hearted post-game handshake. Full disclosure: I grew up less than 20 miles from Stanford and I loved watching Harbaugh coach at The Farm and later up the road with the 49ers. He knew exactly how to push the envelope, take risks, be bold and brash and then back it up by winning (I believe he’s the best coach in all of football today, period) — in other words, he perfected the underdog role.Flash forward to 2016, and USC enters the season with a few question marks, an inexperienced coach and as a double-digit underdog to No. 1-ranked Alabama.Sound familiar? Not exactly.USC is ranked No. 20 in the nation. It is far from an unknown program with zero chance of beating a national championship contender; the Trojans have enough talent that they could very well stick with Alabama. Regardless of the week one result, the Trojans will continue to draw top recruits and be a factor in the college football landscape. Head coach Clay Helton is not going to call out Nick Saban publicly or go for a 2-point conversion with a large fourth quarter lead just to rub salt in the wound (though honestly, we all want to see both of those things happen). In actuality, despite the inflated coverage by this paper and other outlets of the “biggest season opener in USC history,” no one knows what ramifications this game might have on Helton’s coaching career and USC football as a whole.That’s where the Trojans could learn from their Northern California counterparts — that one win could not only shape legacies, but also build a new era. Stanford’s upset of USC in 2007 kickstarted a decade-long run of success for the Cardinal that is still going, even after Harbaugh left in 2011.The Trojans have been searching for an opportunity like this since Carroll’s departure: a chance to regain prominence rather than disappointing just enough to come up short of expectations, with an uncanny string of controversies mixed in year after year.There was the Reggie Bush fiasco, Lane Kiffin on the tarmac, Pat Haden on the sideline, Josh Shaw pulling the hero’s version of Ryan Lochte and Steve freakin’ Sarkisian. And as a result of the past decade’s run of sanctions, rogue coaches and general dysfunction (as we speak, the University is somehow allowing suspended sophomore linebacker Osa Masina to practice with the team despite his involvement in multiple alleged sexual assault investigations), the Trojans in 2016 are likely to spend more time near the bottom or out of the Top 25 rankings instead of at the top.That would not be the new era USC fans are hoping for; it would be continuing the slip from Rose Bowl regulars to annual invitees to the Holiday Bowl.When it was announced two years ago that USC would open the 2016 season against Alabama, no one would have thought that the future of Trojan football would lie in the playbook of a man named Clay Helton and the hands of a first-year starter in redshirt junior quarterback Max Browne. Win, and Helton was the right hire, and Browne is a quarterback destined for greatness. Lose, and… well, it would be expected, bland and render this Harbaugh comparison useless. The man beat a top-ranked team, started an era of success and earned his program everlasting respect that remains strong to this day. For USC, Helton has a chance to do the same. Eric He is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Wednesdays.last_img

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