Arizona State football fans have been confounded all week by the Sun Devils’ defeat at the hands of Stanford last Saturday. ASU didn’t just lose to the Cardinal — they were overpowered in almost every sense of the word.
So is Stanford the greatest college football team of all time, or are the Sun Devils just the same old Sun Devils, unable to get over the hump against a quality opponent under the hot lights of national television?
The answer to both questions is no.
We expect ASU to rebound against the Trojans, who have been anything but triumphant in their first three games of the 2013 season. Here’s our thinking:
Reason #1: USC QB Cody Kessler is relatively inexperienced
Yes, we know quarterback Cody Kessler came to USC as a highly touted prep standout. As a senior in 2010, he earned an assortment of honors, including Super Prep All-American, Prep Star All-American, U.S. Army All-American, USA Today All-USA second team, Rivals 100, Prep Star Dream Team, Super Prep All-Farwest and Prep Star All-West, among others.
But Kessler hasn’t proven himself under fire this season. He got off to a slow start in the opening game against Hawaii and was ineffective in the first half against Washington State. Kessler did complete 15 of 17 passes against Boston College with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but versus Utah State last Saturday, he only connected on 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and a single touchdown. He struggled mightily in the second half against the Aggies, completing just four of his 15 pass attempts.
Is Kessler ready to deal with an aggressive Sun Devil defense, paced by the likes of linebackers Carl Bradford and Chris Young? We’ll see.
Reason #2: Trojan RB Tre Madden is somewhat unproven
We’re sorry, but it says something about a football team when your star running back wasn’t even supposed to be a running back at all.
USC’s Tre Madden, who switched from linebacker to tailback in 2012, was on track to be a key contributor as a sophomore before a torn left knee ligament sidelined him for the season and allowed him to redshirt. This year, Madden has gotten off to a solid start, becoming the first Trojan running back since Marcus Allen in 1981 to start the season with three consecutive 100-yard performances.
Still, Madden has racked up his 100-yard games against sub-par opponents, and he’s hardly the prototype running back we’ve come to expect at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The jury is still out on him.
Advantage: Toss up
Reason #3: Lane Kiffin is USC’s coach — enough said.
Ask most USC fans, and they’ll tell you Lane Kiffin is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the Trojan football program. Aloof and quirky, Kiffin has failed to inspire the Men of Troy to the greatness USC football has been known for over the decades. Too often, his team has been poorly coached, poorly managed, and ultimately embarrassed by lesser opponents.
Relative youth also works against Kiffin. Just 38 years old, he has been involved in college football long enough that he can no longer use his “learning curve” as an excuse for the Trojans’ mediocre performance.
We suspect USC Athletic Director Pat Haden is ready with a contingency plan if the results of the 2013 season warrant a change in leadership.
Bottom line: A Kiffin-led USC team could fall apart early if the Sun Devils have their way on Saturday night.