Trojans' amazing run is most dominant in Pac-10 football history
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant, calls Trojans' run of seven straight Pac-10 titles "unbelievable."
Seattle Times staff reporter
Pac-10's best by decadeThere's no question USC has been the team of this decade. But who were the best of other decades and how did their runs compare to that of the current Trojans?
1990s: Washington. Huskies captured three Pac-10 titles, more than any other school. UCLA won two. The Huskies' titles came consecutively at the beginning of the decade before probation intervened (UW did share a piece of the 1995 title, as well, though USC won the tiebreaker).
1980s: USC. Huskies fans might argue, as UW won two Pac-10 titles and had another year finishing second in the nation. But the Trojans won four Pac-10 titles, including three in a row, and had the most conference wins (56 to UW's 51).
1970s: USC. Trojans won six conference titles in a decade memorable for great running backs — Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, Charles White, etc. USC won three in a row from 1972-74, when it went 20-0-1 in conference play.
1960s: USC. Trojans won five conference titles, including the last four.
1950s: UCLA. In a decade in which six different teams won the conference, Bruins won the most, three, from 1953-55.
1940s: USC. Trojans won four titles, including three during the truncated wartime era.
1930s: USC. Howard Jones got the USC dynasty rolling with four titles.
1920s: California. In the first full decade for the conference, the Bears were the kings, winning four titles, from 1920-23.
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It has to end one of these days, doesn't it?
No, not the debate of Kanye's dissing of Taylor Swift, but something many people in these parts find even more annoying — USC's continued supremacy in the Pac-10.
As the Trojans roll to town for Saturday's game against Washington at Husky Stadium, they are riding the most dominant run in the history of the Pac-10, if not all of college football.
"Obviously what they have done, winning seven straight conference titles, is almost impossible," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said earlier this week.
Especially in a time when parity — brought on by 85-man scholarship limits and other schools ramping up facilities and program enhancements — is supposedly the norm.
In fact, there were seven different winners of the Pac-10 in the previous seven seasons before USC began its run in 2002.
"Once upon a time, I thought parity would run rampant and continue to run rampant," said former UW offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy, a radio host for Fox Sports.
Instead, Pete Carroll arrived at USC in 2001 and a year later had the Trojans off on a run that has never been seen in the conference. It's not just seven straight titles, but also seven straight top-four finishes in the final polls, seven straight BCS bowls and seven straight 11-win seasons, each of the past two marks also NCAA records.
"I think what makes this run so incredible is the fact that Carroll is doing all of this in an era of 85-man scholarship limitations and a time when kids can go to virtually anywhere and play on TV," said ESPN college football writer Bruce Feldman. "Twenty years ago, only a few schools had such reach, and with that, I think it's harder to stockpile talent like in the old days. Kids are so tempted to go their own way and not be patient and sit behind someone."
The reciting of USC's dominance might strike fans of other schools as irritating as the incessant playing of "Tribute To Troy."
But first-year UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who was offensive coordinator at USC seven of the past eight years, says the numbers — such as an 81-7 record in the past 88 games, the losses by a combined 26 points — might actually not be appreciated enough.
"It needs to be, in my opinion, almost honored more, because it's unbelievable," Sarkisian said.
Of course, if there's a Pac-10 school where this would happen, it would be USC, which has long been the winningest program in the conference. It has 756 all-time wins, most in the Pac-10 with UW next at 608, and is situated in the center of the talent-rich Los Angeles area.
"The traditional powers, when they have the right person in place and everybody pulling together, they have a leg up, there is no doubt about that," said longtime college coach Dennis Franchione, who now works in media and has broadcast USC games for ESPN. "History proves that they are going to win when things are done the right way."
They weren't for most of about two decades from the end of the first John Robinson era in 1981 to the beginning of the Carroll era in 2001.
But veteran USC observers say Carroll — whose hiring was initially met with some skepticism given his lack of any college head-coaching experience and two firings as an NFL coach — simply understood the school better than any of his immediate predecessors, quickly reuniting the fan base and reigniting interest among local recruits.
"He grasps the total program better than anyone," said Steve Bisheff, a longtime newspaper reporter who has covered USC for four decades and has a new book about the program called "Always Compete," one of Carroll's mantras. "It's like he has all the strengths of the great coaches before him. He sort of combines them all."
What Carroll also did was again make USC the main destination for the elite L.A.-area recruits after schools such as Colorado and Nebraska had made inroads.
Kennedy says he thinks the departure of the NFL's Rams and Raiders has helped. "Because there is no NFL team, they are the talk of the town," he said. "Carroll has created a pro-style staff and a pro-style environment where all the kids come in with visions of grandeur of going to the next level."
There's been a scandal along the way with the allegations concerning illegal payments to Reggie Bush, though until proven otherwise, nothing discredits the Carroll era.
The only Pac-10 run that really compares is what USC did in the late 1960s and early '70s under John McKay. But the conference was just eight teams deep and not as competitive, and Bisheff points out that there were a couple of so-so years mixed in, such as consecutive four-loss seasons in 1970 and 1971.
Observers say that consistency is forged in part by Carroll's ability to recruit and willingness to play young players, which helps keep the veterans from getting complacent while ensuring that USC has never really had to rebuild by depending on inexperience.
"More often than not, these guys see better players in practice than in the games," Bisheff said.
Bisheff says Carroll's ability to stockpile talent, having many players on the roster as reserves who would be stars at other schools "is maybe the biggest mystery of all." Even though some players have groused, and a few have left, most stay to wait their place in line.
"Even being around it, I don't understand it," Bisheff said. "But he manages to keep it harnessed."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies
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