2015 Pac-12 Football Media Days: USC's Kessler uses 2012 as lesson for 2015
BURBANK, Calif. — The 2012 season was supposed to be the year USC returned to national prominence. Fresh off a sanctions-stifling 10-2 campaign in 2011, the bowl ban was finally off and the Trojans were primed to dominate the college football landscape. Led by four-year starting quarterback and Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley, USC was the AP preseason No. 1 team in the nation and was picked to win the Pac-12 championship.
Things didn’t quite turn out that way. The Trojans limped to the finish line losing five of their last six games after a 6-1 start and had their season finale marred by a reported dustup in the locker room after dropping a 21-7 decision to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Fast forward to summer 2015, and the Trojans find themselves surrounded by similar hype entering a new season. Fresh off a nine-win season and led by another senior quarterback who is a Heisman candidate, the Trojans are No. 10 in the preseason coaches' poll and yet again picked to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game.
Cody Kessler, the Trojan gunslinger this time around, was a redshirt freshman on that 2012 team. While he was quick to mention his respect for Matt Barkley and the rest of the 2012 Trojans – he still looks up to Barkley as an older brother – he also thought the team basked too much in the preseason glory.
“Not to say anything negative about them, but that year, I felt that they enjoyed that more than should have, and that’s something we can’t do,” Kessler told reporters at 2015 Pac-12 Football Media Day. “I think we’re top 15 or 10 or something, and we’re predicted to win the Pac-12 South, but I told our guys it means nothing.”
Head coach Steve Sarkisian has confidence his young men won’t get caught up in the hype.
“It’s somewhat of a beauty contest right now. I don’t think our guys are concerned with it,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think that they’re concerned about ‘This is who we’re supposed to be. I came to SC, I can walk around all high and mighty.’ It’s, 'Let’s go get it done, let’s go do our job, and if it’s good enough, it’s good enough.' We’ll see what happens.”
Sarkisian points to the adversity the Trojans overcame in 2014 as a reason why they won’t be fazed by the hype in 2015. In particular, Sarkisian was proud with how the Trojans bounced back from a disappointing loss to UCLA by throttling Notre Dame in their regular-season finale.
“We went through a lot a year ago. A lot of different stuff off the field that forced us to deal with issues that maybe other programs don’t have to deal with on a daily basis, and our kids never made a big deal about it,” Sarkisian said. “They know how to put things to the side and focus on the task at hand, and I think that’s exactly how they’re dealing with what our expectations are now.”
USC's quest to live up to preseason expectations begins with its Sept. 5 opener against Arkansas State (8 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks).