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College Football Thursday: USC Coaching Search
By Matt Horkman

The University of Southern California’s football team is at a crossroads. After about a decade of dominance under Pete Carroll, USC has gone 29-15 since his departure for the NFL in 2010. That’s a resounding disappointment for a program that expects to win 10 games a year.

Following a 62-41 loss at Arizona State, the Trojans took initiative and fired head coach Lane Kiffin, who replaced Carroll in 2010. The controversial coach’s tenure showed promise in 2011 with a 10-2 record, leading to the Trojans beginning 2012 ranked No. 1 in the polls. Recruiting sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush case finally took their toll, though, as the sanctions depleted USC‘s depth. As a result, they were unable to overcome injuries and disappointing plaLane Kiffiny, finishing the season a disappointing 7-6.

In many ways, because of the sanctions, Kiffin never had much of a chance in USC. He’ll likely resurface as an offensive coordinator or a head coach with a smaller program, though he remains young enough (38) to work his way back into a major program.

For USC, they want nothing more than to put the last three years behind them and begin anew. With that in mind, let the coaching search begin.

Reports suggest USC representatives attempted to contact former Indianapolis and Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy. Actually, Dungy himself broke this news on The Dan Patrick Show. Dungy insists he’s retired.

Another big name linked to the job is current St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. However, Fisher’s in just his second season with the Rams, so luring him to Southern Cal is probably wishful thinking. The same applies to outrageous rumors suggesting Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly would leave the Eagles after one year on the job. 

None of these options is realistic unless the Rams fire Fisher after a disappointing season. In fact, we often hear about big programs wanting high-profile coaches. For example, a year ago, Jon Gruden was linked to Tennessee.

It’s somewhat comical that USC and Tennessee believe that Super Bowl winning coaches, such as Dungy and Gruden, would consider leaving their current television jobs to coach college football.

I believe Dungy when he insists he‘s retired and Gruden seems destined to coach Dallas or remain in the booth as his generation’s John Madden.

Pursuing Dungy, Fisher, and Kelly is the equivalency to chasing ghosts. USC shouldn’t even bother. They should focus on the college ranks, where they can find the next Urban Meyer. Whatever you think about Meyer, he worked his way up through the ranks by turning around lower-level programs (Bowling Green and Utah) before taking his first major head-coaching job with Florida. After a brief retirement, Meyer didn’t go chasing the NFL. He stayed in the college game by accepting the Ohio State coaching vacancy.

Now, I’m not advocating Meyer jump ship to USC. Why would he? The Buckeyes are as good as a job and Meyer has them contending for a national title. However, the Trojans should look into finding somebody like Meyer.

Given his ties to the program, Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian makes sense. He’s a former USC offensive coordinator and is familiar with the conference, though it’s unknown whether he’d leave Washington -- which is improving -- for Southern California.

The best candidate for the job, however, is Boise State head coach Chris Petersen. He’s a name that’s often atop many off-season lists, but he’s been loyal to Boise State, possibly waiting for the right fit to come available. Petersen is 88-10 as Boise State’s head coach, including victories in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma and the 2009 Fiesta Bowl over TCU.

Maybe USC isn‘t in his cards, but he‘s the ideal candidate for their vacancy. Like Meyer, he has a tremendous pedigree as a college head coach, which should be USC’s No. 1 criteria rather than NFL head-coaching experience. 

USC’s athletic director Pat Haden is keeping his plans close to the vest. We don’t know what direction he’ll go in, but we do know the best direction he can go in.

And that’s hiring Chris Petersen.

Draft Watch
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Outlook: This feels like most the appropriate time to talk about Mariota, who’s the fastest-rising prospect in America. Most analysis talks up his athleticism, but he’s equally impressive as a passer. He keeps his eyes downfield while on the move, and from the pocket, he does a great job of going from progression to progression. His accuracy is outstanding, especially with his deep ball. In fact, he may throw the tightest spiral in the country. Finally, he doesn’t make mistakes. He’ll complete a check-down pass or throw the ball away before forcing the ball into coverage. Everybody is raving about Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but Mariota may surpass both of them in time for the 2014 NFL Draft. I think he has already.

Stock: Up

Couch Potato Lineup
Last Week: 2-1
Season Record: 13-5

No. 9 UCLA at No. 13 Stanford
Time/TV: 3:30 PM EST, ABC
Outlook: A week after falling to Utah, Stanford will look to rebound against UCLA. The Bruins are flying under the radar, in large part because Oregon’s overshadowing the entire conference. However, quarterback Brett Hundley is playing outstanding football. In fact, he’s a legitimate pro prospect with a first-round grade. He’ll face his staunchest test yet in a Stanford front that prides itself on attacking the line of scrimmage. Offensively, the Cardinal relies on a physical running game to grind the clock. In addition, wide receiver Ty Montgomery is among the most dynamic players in the country. He can beat you from the slot, lineup in the backfield, and contribute in the return game. UCLA must account for him, as he seems to make a big play or two each week. The Bruins are for real, but Stanford’s desperate to get back on track after losing last week.

Stanford 27 UCLA 24

No. 6 LSU at Ole Miss
Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPN
Outlook: After starting 3-0, Ole Miss has loss three consecutive games against teams currently ranked in the top 25. Last week, they were minutes away from upsetting Texas A&M, but their failure to do anything on offense in the final five minutes cost them. They may face a similar fate this week, as LSU’s offense is the most balanced in the SEC. The Tigers’ passing game resembles an NFL attack, with quarterback Zach Mettenberger and wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry all being on the NFL’s radar. As they did last week, they can turn to a bruising running game if their passing game isn’t clicking. Jeremy Hill gained 121 yards on 19 carries against a Florida defense that is superior to the one he’ll see on Saturday night. Expect a similar performance as the Tigers re-position themselves in the national title picture.

LSU 34 Ole Miss 21

No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, ABC
Outlook: One of the biggest ACC games in years, Florida State travels to Death Valley to take on the explosive Clemson offense. This is a battle of Heisman-contending quarterbacks. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is drawing comparisons to Russell Wilson for his calm demeanor and dual-threat capabilities. Florida State’s Jameis Winston is a redshirt freshman, who’s quickly making FSU fans forget about E.J. Manuel. He’s leading an offense that’s yet to score under 40 points in a game. The Seminoles do have a better defense with cornerback Lamarcus Joyner leading the way in the secondary. In fact, his matchup on Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is one of the keys to the game. If Joyner can slow Watkins down, that takes a huge weapon away from Boyd. Nevertheless, I think this is Clemson’s year. Winston‘s yet to be tested on the road. He’s played at Boston College and Pittsburgh, but those crowds have nothing on Clemson, especially in a primetime setting. I expect the freshman to make a few mistakes, while Boyd puts forth a signature performance.

Clemson 41 Florida State 37

Update: USC claims the representative that reached out to Tony Dungy was not associated with USC.

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