Steve Sarkisian (phote credit—Lisa Horne)
by Lisa Horne
This has been a trying week for the USC Trojan football team and its fans.
Cornerback Josh Shaw's heroic story of how he jumped from a second-floor balcony to the pool deck below to save his drowning seven-year old nephew was the feel good story of the year. He reportedly suffered two high-ankle sprains.
Less than a week later, USC had egg on its face when Shaw admitted to school officials that the story was all a lie. He has been suspended indefinitely from team activities.
On Wednesday, Sportscenter anchor John Anderson referred to USC as a "clown college."
On Thursday, running back Anthony Brown—he had quit the team the previous week—made an alarming post on his Instagram account: "Sark treated me like a slave in his Office...Can't play for a racist MAN!!!!! #Fighton." The posts reportedly appeared on his Instagram and Facebook accounts but were later deleted, according to ESPN.
Maybe this is a clown show. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Not this year.
When Lane Kiffin was dismissed after an embarrassing 62-41 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils last year, most Trojan fans were happy with Athletic Director Pat Haden's decision. The hiring of Steve Sarkisian was met with mixed reactions.
Some fans were happy to have the former Trojan offensive coordinator back at USC. Others wanted USC to cut ties with anyone associated to Pete Carroll.
In any case, at least the cloud of uncertainty hanging over Kiffin's head had been lifted. Positive changes were coming USC's way.
USC's four-year probation—a result of an NCAA investigation that cited USC for lack of institutional control in its football and basketball programs—ended in June. The football team had also been clipped 10 scholarships per year for the last three years. Starting in 2015, USC will be able to offer up to 25 scholarships in its next recruiting class.
There was a lot to look forward to this season. Barring an injury to a key player, what could possibly go wrong at USC?
Shaw has not been charged of any crime but he has hired an attorney to advise him. His attorney Donald Etra told ESPNLA that Shaw was injured "falling off the balcony at the Orsini Apartments on Saturday night."
Shaw has not explained how he fell off a balcony. Frankly, he doesn't owe anyone an explanation. A person's medical history is private and confidential and as such, is nobody's business but Shaw's. Unless illegal activity predicated his injuries or someone close to Shaw spills the beans, we will probably never know what happened.
Brown's racial allegations sound like nothing more than an unhappy player venting about his spot on the depth chart or lack of playing time. Remember, Brown walked away from the team last week. Obviously, he was not going to start at any position.
When Brown made his incendiary remarks on Wednesday, a lot of Trojans rushed to Sarkisian's defense. You can see their tweets here, here and here. Conversely, they had remained quiet when Shaw's heroic story made the news. Players always know what is up.
That brings us to this Saturday, when USC hosts Fresno State. Distractions can cause havoc with a team. But this week's events should serve as a catalyst for the Trojans. They are mad. They are embarrassed. They've been humiliated by the Mother Ship.
This week has been a festering boil. An imminent volcanic eruption. A pressure cooker about to blow its lid.
Fresno State could not have picked a worse time to play USC.
The Trojans will come out and play like their pants are on fire. The Bulldogs will be their unwilling punching bag. It's going to get ugly.
Sarkisian is going to have to rein in some of that testosterone-fueled rage. With more than the usual amount of press surrounding this game, USC will be scrutinized closely. How the players handle the distractions will reflect on the school.
This game can make the media forget about Shaw and Brown. A thorough thrashing of the Bulldogs, devoid of cheap shots or ejections, is the best possible outcome for USC. A close score and some personal fouls, however, will elicit more criticism of the program and more embarrassment for the players.
Sarkisian needs to have the players focused on playing efficiently. A quick, surgical strike on the Trojans' first possession will get the fans fired up. Pounding the ball up Fresno State's gut will sate USC's older alumni. Some deep balls will appease the hipsters. Creative playcalling on 3rd-and-short will thrill the anti-Kiffin crowd.
If Traveler gallops into the Coliseum against a backdrop of cardinal-clad fans with their fingers in V's at least twice a quarter, all will be well in La-La Land.
Some proactive, self-deprecating humor courtesy of the Trojan marching band couldn't hurt, either.
If the band doesn't play "Send in the Clowns" at halftime on Saturday, Stanford's band will be happy to oblige next week when the Cardinal host USC in Palo Alto.