USC Football: The Five Worst Losses Of The Pete Carroll Era


Very few college football programs have been as dominant as the USC Trojans this decade.

Among the accomplishments of Pete Carroll’s cardinal and gold bunch:

Seven straight Pac-10 Conference titles.

Seven straight seasons with at least 11 wins.

Four straight Rose Bowls.

One and a half national championships (the 2003 crown was shared with LSU).

Losses tend to be magnified and more devastating with programs like USC’s, because it costs the team more.

I thought I’d list what I consider the five defeats during Carroll’s tenure at Southern Cal that were the most disastrous, the worst of the worst.

Here they are, in descending order…

5. Texas, 2006, 42-38: This BCS National Championship Game was one for the ages; it was certainly one of the best football games ever played.

At any level.

This clash had everything: Two dominant 12-0 teams that were ranked 1-2 in the nation all year, two Heisman Trophy winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, a Longhorn that should have won a Heisman in Vince Young, and the Trojans going for their second straight BCS crown in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl.

USC’s players and fans firmly believed that they would hoist the crystal football at the end of the night.

That was why it was so devastating when Young scrambled into the end zone for the winning touchdown, causing rich boosters (or so I’ve heard) to cry in the stadium tunnels.

To this day, Trojan fans remain angry at Carroll for having Bush on the sidelines for that huge fourth down play that would have sealed the win.

4. Oregon, 2009, 47-20: Going into this showdown at Eugene’s Autzen Stadium, USC still had a chance at a Pac-10 championship and a BCS berth with a win over the Ducks.

They didn’t even come close.

Largely thanks to quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running back LaMichael James, and their raucous fans, Oregon took the Trojans to the proverbial woodshed.

My favorite fan sign from that night read, “Welcome To The Fall Of Troy”.

As it turned out, that would come later. But it was a great sign all the same.

3. Stanford, 2007, 24-23: This contest in the Coliseum was supposed to be standard procedure, just another win for the Men of Troy.

The fact that Stanford was a 41 point underdog had something to do with that.

Imagine the shock felt by the cardinal and gold faithful when Tavita Pritchard threw the winning touchdown pass to Richard Sherman and stunned the sports world.

John David Booty throwing four interceptions while playing with a broken finger was a big factor in USC’s loss to a Cardinal team that would end up going 4-8 that season.

I actually agree with those fans who say that if Mark Sanchez, Booty’s backup at the time, had played, the Trojans would have won.

2. UCLA, 2006, 13-9: Being a UCLA alumnus and a passionate member of Bruin Nation, I consider this game one of my personal all-time favorites.

As a 23 point underdog, the Bruins were merely an OK team that year, facing a No.2 ranked USC squad that was playing for a spot in the BCS title game.

To say that UCLA’s defense, led by Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman, played the game of their lives would be an understatement for the ages, but that’s exactly what they did as they stuffed the Trojans’ vaunted offense time after time.

Everyone in blue and gold recalls fondly Eric McNeal’s interception of John David Booty with the game on the line, but it was Aaron Perez’s 63 yard punt that won the game for the Bruins and killed ‘SC’s BCS hopes.

Not to mention taking city bragging rights for the first time in seven years.

And I had the utmost privilege of being there to see it.

OK folks, here’s my choice for USC’s worst loss under Pete Carroll:

1. Stanford, 2009, 55-21: The Trojans still had hopes of a Rose Bowl invitation entering this game.

It was Homecoming, and they dearly wanted to get revenge on a Cardinal team that scored perhaps college football’s biggest upset ever two years before on that same Coliseum field.

Even though running back Toby Gerhart was making ‘SC’s defense look like a sieve, the game was within reach for three quarters, as the score was only 28-21 in Stanford’s favor.

Then the fourth quarter happened.

For that game’s last 15 minutes, it was like Mike Tyson fighting Miley Cyrus, as the Cardinal scored four unanswered touchdowns and ended up scoring the most points ever by a Trojan opponent.

It was a complete beatdown.

Since USC has had a football team for almost 130 years, that is definitely saying something. The Trojans were like a deer in the headlights as Stanford did whatever they wanted.

It was, to be sure, most humiliating for the Trojan family. So much so that out of a crowd of over 90,000, only around 25,000 remained by game’s end.

To sum up, there is one lesson to be learned by all of this, despite what some USC students, alumni and fans would tell you:

No one is invincible or unbeatable.

Every team needs a bit of humility, and these five battles gave the University of Southern California’s football program exactly that.