USC had their chances, but in the end, their defense could not hold up. Photo by Jeff LewisThe 2011 USC Trojans football season will probably be remembered for several different reasons.The record setting performances of quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods (Gardena Serra HS), the suspension of running back Marc Tyler, the saga of running back Dillon Baxter, the rising stars of linebacker Dion Bailey (Lakewood HS), running back Curtis McNeal (Venice HS), and wide receiver Marqise Lee (Gardena Serra HS). Yet the most prominent storyline could be the recurring theme of missed opportunities.The most glaring missed opportunity of this team is the inability to participate in a bowl game -- something this current generation of Trojans had nothing to do with.The second most glaring missed opportunity occurred last Saturday in the loss to Stanford, something that can’t be blamed on stars of past glory.In front of a sellout crowd of 93,607 and a national television audience, the Trojans had a chance to beat not only a conference opponent, but also the sixth-ranked team in the BCS.A victory would have been huge for the program in the midst of its NCAA sanctions.No longer would critics be able to say -- at least not reasonably -- that this team is unable to beat top competition.Head coach Lane Kiffin would have been viewed as a genius -- a title that his predecessor wore proudly.McNeal, who has emerged from the shadow of Marc Tyler, would have turned the dangerous duo of Barkley and Woods into a trio.The outcome of last Saturday’s game has led to some quite different reactions.Criticisms of the team have increased.Instead of being a hero, Kiffin is now being viewed as a crybaby in the aftermath of the loss. His biting criticism of game officials recently earned him a $10,000 fine.When he could have been hailed as the next star running back at USC, questions arose about McNeal’s ability to secure the ball.The decision making of Woods has been called into question as his regulation-ending scramble towards the sideline effectively extinguished a chance for a game-winning field goal.While there is no single reason for the Trojans loss to Stanford, one observation from the game that can’t be overlooked is this: the Trojans have really good athletes; the Cardinal have really good football players.USC’s offense is one that is chock full of big play potential. The game against Stanford featured three plays of 25 yards or more, including touchdown runs of 25 and 61 yards by McNeal, and a 28-yard touchdown catch by Lee.Stanford’s offense is one that is more methodical. It wears down opposing defenses with its strong running game, while still having the option of torching secondaries with the ability of quarterback Andrew Luck.Although USC ultimately failed the litmus test in the game against Stanford, there were some positives to be taken away from it.Despite his two fumbles last weekend, McNeal has clearly set himself apart as the team’s best running back.Cornerback Nickell Robey had an interception for the second straight game, quelling some of the criticism that the defense cannot create any turnovers.And the Trojans can still finish the season strong in impressive fashion, especially if they can beat Oregon on November 19.It’s not too late for this Trojans team to create some more memories, possibly some where opportunities are seized.
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