Southern Cal Patriots

26 11 2009

The NFL and NCAA each has one team it could call its “Team of the Decade.” For the NFL, it’s surely the Patriots and for the NCAA, it has to be the University of Southern California. That’s not surprising, since nearly every decade can be marked by the esteemed play of one particular team. What’s unique about the representative teams for each level of football this decade is the similarities shared by both squads.

Total domination

Let’s get the easy part out of the way. The Patriots have 109 regular season wins since 2000 (second behind the Colts’ 111), 6 AFC East division titles, 14 playoff wins and 3 Super Bowl victories (both tops this decade).

Southern Cal has 94 regular season wins since 2000, 7 Pac-10 championships, 6 bowl game wins, and at least a share of 2 national championships.

It’s safe to say that both teams have set a track record by which all other teams measure themselves.

Coaching

Both teams have been symbolized by their head coaches — Bill Belichick (took over in 2000) for the Pats and Pete Carroll (2001) for USC. Ironically, Carroll preceded Belichick as the Pats head coach.

Of course, the coaches couldn’t appear to have more divergent personalities and approaches to how they manage their teams. I won’t go into it much since it doesn’t help the point of this post, but the perceived differences are clear: Belichick is aloof, methodical and boring. He hides in his hypothetical PatCave before games and draws up gameplans to destroy the competition while being notoriously frank with the media. Carroll is gregarious, charming, invites celebrities to stand on the sidelines during games and plays pranks on his players. While he’s just as diligent and prepared as Belichick, he represents himself in a far different manner.

Anyway, both coaches have clearly used the success of their teams to become the masterminds of their respective leagues. Players want to go to bat for them and they seem to have no problem in recruiting top-notch talent. (The Pats get tons of veterans who want to be “coached” and win a Super Bowl or two.)

Transcendent teams that ultimately failed

During their decade-long reign, the Pats and USC each produced a season which seemed transcendent at the time.

The Pats’ 2007 squad went 16-0 in the regular season, and it was their first eight weeks that transformed them into a likeable team of overachievers (how they were perceived since their massive Super Bowl upset of the Rams during the ’01 season) into the Evil Empire of the NFL. They scored 331 points in those first eight games for an average of 41, never scoring fewer than 34. Their average margin of victory was 26 points. They became the first team since the ’72 Dolphins to make it undefeated through a regular season, with Tom Brady (50 passing TDs), Randy Moss (23 receiving TDs) and their offense (589 points) setting all-time NFL records. (To make it even more dramatic, Brady and Moss set their TD records on a 65-yard pass, catch and run in the 4th quarter of their last regular season game.)

The Pats used their undefeated regular season to stretch their consecutive games won steak in the regular season to 19, ultimately lengthening it to 21 after Week 2 of the ’08 campaign.

Southern Cal’s 2005 team was equally legendary in their throttling of the competition. They went 12-0 during the regular season, never scoring fewer than 35 points and reaching 50-plus points seven times. Their roster was absolutely stocked with NFL players. As in, at least 27 players. A couple of them didn’t play, like freshman Mark Sanchez, but that team had talent bursting at its seams. There were seven first-round NFL draft choices and 10 second-rounders. The QB (Matt Leinart) and one primary RB (Reggie Bush) were first-rounders and the other primary RB (LenDale White) and both starting WRs (Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett) were second-rounders. So, you could say this team had talent.

Southern Cal had won 34 straight games (including bowls) before the loss to Texas. In other words, they didn’t lose a game from Oct. 4, 2003 until Jan. 4, 2006. Of course, they actually won 38 straight regular season games before falling to Oregon State, 33-31, on Oct. 28, 2006.

Of course, both teams that year ultimately failed because each lost their championship game on a last-second defensive collapse (Eli-to-Plax vs. the Pats, Vince Young’s rush TD vs. USC). The Pats and Southern Cal were heavily favored to win their respective games (if not in Vegas then at least in the minds of fans), but they appeared to run out of steam after a season full of media adoration/hatred. For the Pats, they were the high-octane offense that trounced its opponents in an unsporting way. For Southern Cal, they were the team with a squeemish defensive backfield that had faced only one really good team (Notre Dame) before the Texas match.

On both accounts, it appeared to be an incredibly odd and anti-climatic way to end what had been such a memorable season.

The irony of those teams shouldn’t be forgotten either. Both teams, at their peak, were offensive monsters with the defenses ultimately holding them back. Yet the head coaches (Belichick and Carroll) had earned their coaching reputations through their defensive mastery.

Defections

Each team has struggled to remain atop their respective league since those championship game losses. The Pats missed last year’s playoffs despite winning 11 games (without Brady, who tore his knee in the first eight minutes of the first game) and their bad luck since that Giants Super Bowl game crested with the Colts game a couple weeks ago. I don’t care to break down Belichick’s 4th-down call since it’s been analyzed approximately 3,419 different ways.

As for Southern Cal, they’ve continued to lose random Pac-10 games through the years (Oregon State ’06; Standford, Oregon ’07; Oregon State ’08) before this season’s washout. They lost to Washington and were routed by Oregon and Stanford.

A lack of player talent hasn’t been what’s hurt both teams. They still have top-quality players. Instead, a breakup of their coaching staffs is what has potentially ended their dynasties.

Look at the Patriots’ coaching staff from their 2003 season, the last campaign in which they won the Super Bowl.

  • Outside Linebacker coach: Rob Ryan (left after ’03 for Oakland)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Charlie Weis (left after ’04 for Notre Dame)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Romeo Crennel (left after ’04 for Cleveland)
  • Defensive Back coach: Eric Mangini (left after ’05 for New York Jets)
  • Dir of College Scouting: Thomas Dimitrioff (left after ’07 for Atlanta)
  • Def. Coaching Asst.: Josh McDaniels (left after ’08 for Denver)
  • VP of Player Personnel: Scott Pioli (left after ’08 for Kansas City)

That’s a lot of coaching and management talent to leave in the span of five seasons. The Belichick Tree has grown in the NFL to the detriment of the Patriots.

As for Southern Cal, check out their 2004 coaching staff, the year before their landmark season:

  • Offensive Coordinator: Norm Chow (left after ’04 for Tennessee)
  • Asst. Head Coach: Ed Orgeron (left after ’04 for Ole Miss)
  • Wide Receiver coach: Lane Kiffin (left after ’06 for Oakland)
  • Eventual Off. Coord.: Steve Sarkisian (left after ’08 for U of Washington)

Kiffin would also serve as an offensive coordinator, so the Trojans eventually lost Chow, Kiffin and Sarkisian in the span of four seasons. That’s a huge coaching drain on the offense, no matter what level of talent is brought in. USC’s caliber of talent in ’05 was just so great that they were able to mask the losses of Chow and Orgeron for one more run.

I’ll finish here because this post is getting out of hand. It’s evident how many similarities Southern Cal and the Patriots have shared. They were each the unofficial Team of the Decade at their level of football. Both have defensive-minded coaches who presided over legendary offenses during the peak of their dynasty. Despite gut-wrenching championship game losses and a mass defection of coaching talent, both have still remaine very competitive, albeit less than dominant. We’ll see how they recover for the new decade.

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One response

28 11 2009
Jeff

this is a solid post

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