A few weeks ago, in a previous life, I wrote the following about USC:
Like a beautifully rendered post-apocalyptic landscape, you won't be able to help checking in on the Trojans. [...] These are not last year's USC Trojans. The reasons for this are obvious: Tim Floyd resigned his position amidst a Yahoo! Sports report that he had a very dirty hand in O.J. Mayo's recruitment, and Floyd chose not to fight the impending NCAA investigation into USC's entire athletics program. Instead, he fled, leaving his players to transfer and recruits to choose elsewhere. USC, with its brand-new stadium and shiny uniforms and big-program sheen will look an awful lot like D.C. in "Fallout 3." What was here before was beautiful, but the destruction has an attraction of its own.
I hate reading my old writing, so realize how difficult that was for me. Why, yes, I do want a cookie. Thank you.
Anyway, the point is that USC wasn't supposed to be good. It wasn't even supposed to be marginal. USC was a program in distress, a bombed-out and depleted facsimile of what Tim Floyd spent years building and then, if reports of his involvement in the dirty specifics of O.J. Mayo's recruitment are correct, destroying. The Trojans look different. They're being coached by Kevin O'Neill, who by all accounts is not a player's coach, and that's putting it very politely. They have a fraction of the talent left over from last year's team.
And yet, don't look now, but USC might still be OK. Downright good, even. I know, I know. It's weird. But it's true. After all, USC just cruised to an easy win over No. 20 UNLV at the Diamond Head Classic. That would be interesting enough, but it follows the Trojans' 22-point win over Tennessee on Dec. 19. That was guard Mike Gerrity's first game since his transfers from Pepperdine and Charlotte. Gerrity was granted a waiver by the NCAA to play against Tennessee, and the Trojans are mighty thankful for his services. Alongside the return of academically suspect forward Leonard Washington -- also the name of a classic Chappelle's Show character, and that never hurts -- the Trojans have serious basketball people asking seriously: Can USC actually win the Pac-10? Maybe?
Maybe not. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. But the Trojans have cleared at least one hurdle: they're decidedly not awful. Post-apocalyptic landscape this is not.