Is the Rule of the Trojan Empire Over?

Zach ZarembaCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2009

In the year 2001, the final Pac-10 standings looked something like this:

1. No. 4 Oregon (7-1)

2. No. 12 Stanford (6-2)

3. No. 20 Washington (6-2)

4. No. 13 Washington State (6-2)

5. USC (5-3)

6. UCLA (4-4)

7. Oregon State (3-5)

8. Arizona (2-6)

9. Arizona State (1-7)

10. California (0-8)

Wow, this was a long time ago, I didn't know Washington State was ever good and Washington and Stanford were capable of being ranked.  And California was the cellar-dweller! (The Tedford era was soon to begin)

What is significant about this year is the fact that it was the last year that USC did not receive at least a piece of the Pac-10 conference crown.  The Men of Troy have proceeded to win seven consecutive Pac-10 titles including four outright. 

In this era the Trojans have had three Heisman winners, an overflowing abundance of All-Americans and First team Pac-10 selections as well as a backup quarterback that the Kansas City Chiefs are paying ten million a year. 

The Trojans have been one of the top dynasties of the 21st century garnering two AP National Championships and virtually owning college football most prestigious bowl game: The Rose Bowl.

Times have slowly been changing, USC has been beaten five times in the last three years and have only one outright title in the last three. 

If not for a late August stumble by Oregon State, and a no-show in their rivalry game, the Trojans streak would have ended last season.  The Trojans have run out of luck and this is the year the Trojan Empire's rule comes to an end.

Ever since Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White left USC, the Trojan offense has lacked that scare and explosiveness the teams in 04 and 05 possessed.

Now don't get me wrong, I watched Mark Sanchez and his teammates light up the scoreboard in early season routes of Virginia and Ohio State, but this vaunted passing game vanished in Reser Stadium as the Beavers, according to Chris Fowler, "sprung a trap." 

The 2004 Trojans were able to elude the pesky Beavers, a feat Sanchez's team and the 06 Trojans did not accomplish.

The 04 and 05 Trojans did however, lack a dominant defense which has become USC's trademark.  When the Trojan's offense has gone into hibernation, the defense has had their back and almost every starter from last years unit was drafted, including four USC linebackers went in the first two rounds.

The 09 Trojan's defense only returns only one proven defender in Taylor Mays, the top defensive player in college football.  Along with Mays will be virtually a new defense.  Obviously this will be talented collection of top recruits, but experience matters, something the Trojan's top competitors in the Pac-10 own.  

The Trojans also have to break in a quarterback, Aaron Corp will be the guy unless freshman sensation Matt Barkley or Mitch Mustain really play well during August practices. 

Corp is a sophomore who did redshirt which means he's been on campus to witness John David Booty and Mark Sanchez's careers. 

Being able to learn from these greats as well as practice against the nation's top defense should make Corp game ready and give him confidence; but when the Trojans roll into Columbus to take on the Buckeyes, will Corp's confidence show up or will a young, timid sophomore walk through the Horseshoe tunnel?

The majority of backs and receivers at USC return to give whoever starts at Quarterback great options.

The Men of Troy have a rough four game stretch where they travel to California, Notre Dame, and Oregon as well as a home visit from the Beavers.  When California has had the talent, they have caused great problems for the Trojans. 

Especially when it is at Strawberry Canyon.  The Ducks host the Pac-10's loudest crowd and are the only team in recent memory to have beaten USC by more than seven points.

The Rodgers brothers had a coming out party against the Trojans last year, and the Beavers could be 6-1 or 7-0 when they meet up with the Trojans.

Every USC opponent circles the date on there calendar.  The Ducks, Beavers, and Bears all having been closing the gap and this could be the year two or three of those teams knock of the Trojans not to mention the two non-conference teams that are excitedly waiting the Trojans arrival. 

The inexperience at quarterback, many new starters on defense and a tough schedule could make this the year the Men of Troy's rule comes to an end.