21 min Read

IMHO Sunday: USC football – Still one of L.A.’s sports crown jewels

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

 

Still a jewel: As your eyebrows are quickly rising above your hairline, I know what you’re thinking after looking at the headline above. Has the old flatulent finally lost it? Well, despite currently wandering through the mega Los Angeles sports scene in search of its glorious college football past, USC Trojans football still remains in the top three of L.A.’s sports crown jewels behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers, two professional sports franchises that in the past two years have hoisted world championship banners.

Still a jewel – Part 2: Yes, it’s been a long while since the Trojans have raised a national championship banner (2004), and it’s also starting to feel too long, as well, as it pertains to a Pac-12 title flag (2017). However, thanks to generations of national and conference championships along with decades and decades of college football legends and icons, USC football remains baked into the psyche of the Los Angeles sports community. There is, however, no illusion that as of the moment, USC is still searching or trying to figure out how to keep the bar high and not become fully entrenched as yesterday’s local super college football power.   

Although it’s been many seasons since former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll (photo above) delivered the 2004 national championship, USC by reputation has remained one of the premier sports entities in Los Angeles.

Still a jewel – Part 3: Despite its issues, USC Trojans football is not dead – and trust me on this one – the extremely vocal fan base shows you just how important USC football is to the L.A. community and to the L.A. sports landscape. Despite not having won a Pac-12 Conference title since 2017 or no CFP national playoff appearances, the Men of Troy still have the passion and interest of the L.A. sports market – for now – but need to get going ASAP. That window of opportunity to stay a staple of L.A.’s culture has shown signs of cracks, but that was also the case before Pete Carroll arrived to unleash one of college football’s most dominate eras. The formula for success is all still there, but it needs leadership, credibility, philosophy, and support to get there. I know, you’ve heard it all before and complained about it all before.    

Still a jewel – Part 4: Although obviously it’s not ideal, it’s a good thing SoCal folks are so upset regarding USC football because it shows their level of passion and expectations and demands to be great again. You can talk all you want about the Rams, Chargers, Clippers, UCLA football and the like, but they all rank well below the Men of Troy in historical success and glitzy perception over such a long period of time. It’s now USC president Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn’s duty and responsibility to make sure the Trojans don’t slip down beneath the aforementioned L.A. sports properties.

USC president Carol Folt (photo above on right) and her athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above on left) are responsible for keeping the USC football programs as part of L.A.’s premier sports icons – college or pro.

Still a jewel – Part 5: A gauge for comparing L.A. teams and their popularity will be the live sports attendance counts as we slowly make our way back to open stadiums and a more normal way of life. Dodgers and Lakers fans have already demonstrated their passion at Dodgers Stadium and the Staples Center, respectively. It figures, attendance at Rams and Chargers games should be near capacity not so much for their unbridled passion but the intrigue and mystery of attending an open SoFi Stadium for the first time. Let’s not forget that the Rams were once among the top L.A. sports entities until they left for St. Louis in 1994 and didn’t return until 2016. USC has never left and has remained a bedrock of the L.A. sports stage.

Still a jewel – Part 6: Let’s look at some facts. The Dodgers have won six world championships since moving from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1958. The Lakers have won 12 world championships since moving from Minneapolis in 1960. The Los Angeles Rams, not the St. Louis Rams, have won two NFL championships (1945 and 1951) but never a Super Bowl while playing in LA. The Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Chargers have won no championships while in L.A., and let’s not forget UCLA football, which has only one national championship (1954) to its credit.

Drum roll please: USC Trojans football has won 11 national championships. Get the point? Are you listening Dr. Folt and Mike Bohn?

Legendary USC head football coach John McKay (photo above) brought Los Angeles four national championships.

Still a jewel – Part 7: Then there are the sports legends of Los Angeles. Nine players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame played in Los Angeles for the Dodgers. Ten players in the Basketball Hall of Fame played for the Los Angeles Lakers at some point in their careers. Another drum roll: USC has 34 players in the College Football Hall of Fame and counting.     

Still a jewel – Part 8:
Based on my 59 years of following USC football, I have no doubt what the Trojans have been going through is a painful and a temporary cycle of mediocrity, as sickening as it is. At some point, the Trojans will return to its glory. The obvious question is when is that point? 2021? 2022? 2023? 2024? Maybe only USC president Carol Folt and her athletic director Mike Bohn can give us the answer since they are the ones currently responsible for high gridiron cardinal and gold maintenance.

Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above) is entrusted in keeping USC football at a level of championship excellence and among the very top of the Los Angeles sports community.

From the press box…

 

The truth tellers: I believe I can speak for many of my colleagues from all the major media outlets that cover USC football that the best thing for “business” is when the Trojans are on top of their game, meaning they are consistent national championship contenders and a dominating presence in the Pac-12 Conference.

The truth tellers – Part 2:
It’s been well documented that college football and the Los Angeles sports scene is better when USC football is on top of its game. I believe that while each USC “fan site” has a varying degree of how much they want to push the “homerism” in what they write, I would like to think that in the end, all will give you the straight scoop at some point. If you read all the sites – and I do because I enjoy different perspectives and information – at some point they’ll come to the basic agreement on various topics like Clay Helton, recruiting, the pulse of the fan base, and player and roster turnover and team analysis. You pick the website that brings you a comfort zone and objective opinions. Personally, I like writing and reading about positive news as it applies to USC football. However, I don’t like reading how rosy things are when they are not. I don’t see objective reporting on USC football as a positive or negative but a reality. 

There is no greater central figure for website columnists to discuss than that of current USC head football coach Clay Helton (photo above).


The truth tellers – Part 3:
At WeAreSC, as I’ve said many times, we were extremely fortunate to have a founder, Garry Paskwietz, who believed we didn’t have to get a story first but get a story right. After Garry’s passing, that philosophy remains as strong as it was when our founding father was in charge. As for today, I admit, I am a bit biased here, but in publisher Erik McKinney, columnists Kevin “Defensively Speaking” Bruce, Chris “Musings” Arledge, analyst Darrell “Coach” Rideaux, and USC basketball historian and writer Rich Ruben, there is a great deal of credibility.

The truth tellers – Part 4: My colleagues have resumes that walk the walk. Bruce and Rideaux were outstanding football players for USC, Arledge held his own as a decorated small college defensive back, and both McKinney and your humble scribe wrote for a significant amount of time for ESPN.com. It is our hope that all our backgrounds can bring together authoritative insight and lively discussions on our message boards. 

The Garry P. WeAreSC Message Boards (photo above) allow fans to interact with each other and voice their opinions on topics related to USC football, basketball, and recruiting.

The truth tellers – Part 5: What most of us at WeAreSC have in common, aside from Rich Ruben, is that we were all handpicked by Garry P., and I am quite proud and honored by that. Our core has never deviated. The Paskwietz family and those behind the scenes have remained extremely loyal to the cause of Garry’s cardinal and gold website venture. Around here, we’d like to think if we tell you something when it comes to USC football, it isn’t based on emotions but logic, fact, and critical analysis. Although we are your “free” site for USC football as Garry wanted it to be, it’s still about credibility, and I believe we still are second to none.

Late WeAre SC publisher Garry Paskwietz (photo above) strongly believed that it was more important to get a story right than to get a story first.


The truth tellers – Part 6:
It is known that the USC football program and the athletic department strongly monitors what all the websites are writing, and they should. It’s great for accountability on both sides. Let’s be clear, how can you have a fan site of USC football and the other Trojans sports and not root for the Men and Women of Troy? Do I expect that our Kevin Bruce, he of “Defensively Speaking” is a homer at heart? Of course, he is and the same is true of all of us. As for Kevin, the guy played on two John McKay USC national championship teams, was a former team captain, and an all-conference selection. However, Kevin is objective enough – as are the other writers on this site – to call it like it is and the way he sees it. And so does “Coach” Rideaux, who played for Pete Carroll.

The truth tellers – Part 7: An important aspect of any publication is the difference between straight reporting and columnist opinion. Straight reporting would be the basic facts of a game or news story. A columnist’s duty to provide opinion based on facts and/or emotional perspective. As most readers know, WeAreSC football columnists like myself, Kevin Bruce, and Chris Arledge have our own unique perspectives on what we think based on our knowledge. It should be noted that we are all appreciative of our readers whether they agree or disagree with our points of view. It’s what makes our website strong and interesting.   

Former USC all-conference and national championship linebacker Kevin Bruce (photo above) has been extremely objective regarding the team, program, and defense for years as a columnist for WeAreSC.


The truth tellers – Part 8:
Make no mistake, all USC websites have at some point ruffled some feathers inside the John McKay Center and/or Heritage Hall. We try to report the news and if warranted, interpret it. Trust me, we do hear one way or another whether what we have written or said has been well received or not. Let’s also be clear, while we want the Trojans to win national titles every year, it is not our job to be a “house organ” or a propaganda machine. Putting accurate information about USC football into insightful writing or in a podcast is and remains the goal.

The post-game show…

Band on the run: Good news for the 2021 home season, the USC Marching Band has tweeted out that they will again be performing at Coliseum home football games.

It was recently announced that the famous USC Marching Band (photo above) will be returning this season to the Coliseum to entertain the fans and contribute to a game’s activities.

A transfer catch: If you’re wondering if Trojans’ wide receiver portal transfer Jake Smith from the University of Texas will be able to adjust to life on the West Coast, consider that Jake is originally from Scottsdale, Ariz., and was once considered the No. 4 athlete and No. 48 overall national prospect in the class of 2019. Smith played two seasons for the Longhorns but still has four seasons of eligibility remaining with the NCAA giving all athletes a free year in 2020 due to the pandemic.

 

The Trojans got a good one when wide receiver and portal transfer Jake Smith (photo above) departed the Texas Longhorns for the USC Trojans.


Tempered enthusiasm:
It’s certainly understandable if Trojans fans are restraining their enthusiasm over the verbal of 3-star offensive tackle Keith Olson from the state of Washington. However, given the fact that Keith’s dad, Kurt, played linebacker at Oregon State, you know the kid will come to compete, and that makes this commitment intriguing. Don’t dis Olson’s commitment until the kid can show what he can do on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields. In other words, give the kid a chance.

West Coast roots: The College Football Playoff (CFP) Management Committee has appointed former Stanford, Washington, and Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham to its selection committee. It certainly won’t hurt to have a new member with Pac-12 roots.

Former Stanford, Washington, and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham (photo above) has been named to the College Football Selection Committee.

 
In memory:
It was very sad to learn of the passing of former UCLA head football coaching great Terry Donahue, 77, after a two-year battle with cancer. Terry was a true gentleman whether he was defeated by the Trojans or was victorious over the Men of Troy.

In memory – Part 2: My earliest memory of Terry Donahue was not as a coach but as a UCLA defensive tackle. I was actually in the UCLA locker room after a 1966 Bruins game in the Coliseum. I was inside the locker room because one of my high school buddies was being recruited by UCLA at the time. What struck me when I saw Terry Donahue was how small (6-0, 190) he was in stature. When you talk about a player that played with a tremendous amount of heart, Terry was that guy.

Late UCLA Bruins head football coach and Hall of Famer Terry Donahue (photo above on right) was a worthy USC adversary when he competed against the Trojans own Hall of Fame football coach, John Robinson (photo above on left.)

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Greg, Pac-12 football media day is coming up on July 27, will WeAreSC be doing any coverage?

Caller No. 1, Funny you should ask. Our publisher Erik McKinney and I spoke on the subject this past week, and we’ll have you covered for the day’s proceedings. Just go to our continuous coverage on the front page of WeAreSC.

Caller No. 2: Katz, were you surprised by the quarterbacking performance at the Elite 11 camp by Trojans verbal 3-star Devin Brown?

Trojans class of 2022 quarterback verbal Devin Brown (photo above) had a tremendous performance at both the Elite 11 and The Opening.

Caller No. 2: Although he was originally listed as a 3-star USC commit for the class of 2022, he performed well beyond that rating and is now a 4-star. In fact, Brown served notice that he is truly one of the nation’s elite. Credit the USC coaches for seeing this kid and projecting his high talent base for the cardinal and gold. So am I surprised? Can I cop out by saying pleasantly surprised?

Caller No. 3: Grego, any concerns that the Trojans have gotten another 3-star offensive line verbal?

Caller No. 3, well, it would have been nice to get a commit from a 5-star or a 4-star, but we’ll see how Keith Olson works out when he arrives on campus. I think that he is a 3-star only becomes an issue if he isn’t surrounded by higher ranked players and proves he can’t play at this level – which remains to be seen. Who knows, maybe this kid is special and remember that Troy Polamalu was once a 3-star coming out of Oregon.  

Trojans fan tend to forget that before he became a Hall of Famer, safety Troy Polamalu (photo above) was a 3-star recruiting prospect out of Tenmile, Oregon.

Caller No. 4: GK, what is the first thing you will be looking at when training camp starts the first week in August?  

Caller No. 4, not to sound flippant, but I will be looking at the official Trojans’ roster for any additions, subtractions, and any position and number changes. There are always questions about roster movement, and this season’s training camp will be no different.   

All eyes will be on the first week in August when the Trojans (photo above) begin training camp in preparation for the the 2021 season. (Photo above by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Caller No. 5: Greg K, if you had one piece of advice, what would you say to a young high school player when it comes to their recruiting or signing?

Caller No. 5, the first thing I would tell a recruit would be make sure you visit your school of interest officially or unofficially and ask yourself, “Would I want to be attending this university if I didn’t play football and would I want to be attending this university if I got injured and couldn’t play football? A recruit might surprise themselves with the answer.

The last word: How will the Coliseum be handling concessions this upcoming season with an eye still on COVID protection?



Author
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.


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