Lane Kiffin is the head coach, general manager and, for most intents and purposes, the owner of the USC football program. He calls the plays, recruits incessantly and is unquestionably the face of the Trojans. While Heisman Trophy quarterback hopeful Matt Barkley has slumped in a disappointing senior year, Kiffin's enigmatic play-calling is to blame for Barkley's profound regression. Kiffin, after all, is also responsible for not including wide receivers Marquise Lee or Robert Woods in the first half of Saturday's embarrassing loss to crosstown rival UCLA. The two All-American candidates combined to catch just two passes in the first half.
Across the board, Kiffin has elite talent at his disposal. Barkley, whose completion percentage has dipped nearly six points after a sensational junior campaign, will still be taken in the top 20 of April's NFL draft. Lee, just a sophomore, is the most scintillating talent in the country. T.J. McDonald is a premier safety, and Khaled Holmes will likely be the first center off the board in the draft.
Entering this season, it appeared that USC's program was once again thriving. Almost every pre-season poll ranked it first, and Kiffin, their smooth-talking leader, seemed to be an ideal frontman. But then the Trojans shockingly lost at Stanford, then at Arizona, then got lit up by Oregon and two weeks later got spanked by the Bruins. Throw in a little controversy -- Kiffin never seems to escape it -- and you're looking at a disastrous three months that may very well leave USC outside of the top 25 by season's end. Speaking of controversy, it is worth noting that Kiffin lied about voting his team No. 1 early in the year and altered players' numbers during a 50-6 win over Colorado. For what it's worth, he has also denied allegations that he knew about the ball-deflating situation, yet another black mark during his tenure.
After the 38-28 loss this weekend to UCLA, the 37-year-old assured reporters that he would return for a fourth season in LA. Remember, this is the same Kiffin who committed long term to the Tennessee gig, only to bolt after one season. It's also the same person whose staff committed a bundle of recruiting violations that are still haunting the Vols' program. Kiffin comes from great coaching stock -- his father, Monte, is a legend responsible for creating the famed Cover 2 defense -- and is seemingly an elite recruiter.
But inking five-star recruits doesn't always translate to success. Kiffin is now 0-3 all-time versus Stanford and 3-8 at USC versus ranked opponents. Oregon put up 730 yards of total offense and 62 points against the Trojans, both all-time program worsts. The team is also markedly undisciplined, committing an egregious nine-plus penalties per game, the worst in all of college football. With four losses and a likely fifth loss to Notre Dame this weekend (Barkley has been ruled out), USC's best-case scenario is the Holiday Bowl, with the lowly Sun Bowl as a consolation prize.
In the next two years, Kiffin will have to deal with the limitations of 75 scholarship players (the aftermath of the Reggie Bush disaster during the Pete Carroll era). He is also likely to start the highly touted, but highly inexperienced Max Wittek at quarterback next season. And if recent history is any indication, another top-flight recruiting class simply means more talent to waste.
Kiffin says he's coming back for a fourth year in LA. Which raises two very important questions: First, really? But perhaps more importantly, is his return is actually a good thing for USC?
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