Hard to imagine

LOS ANGELES - - On the first Sunday in September, Trojans fans should be celebrating their No. 1 team's 49-10 trouncing of an outmanned Hawaii Warriors football team at the start of USC's quest for a possible 12th national championship.

All of the attention should be focused on the uplifting story of this season's Trojans, a team of innocent players who were forced, by no fault of their own, to endure some of the NCAA's harshest penalties and become an inspiration to so many.

Well, something ominous was stuck on the front page of Sunday's "Los Angeles Times" sports page along with the Trojans impressive victory. Perhaps you read it? Perhaps you couldn't believe your sleepy, morning eyes.

Yeah, like another installment of "Nightmare on Elm Street," allegations that former Trojans tailback Joe McKnight, who was in the same backfield with a freshman quarterback named Matt Barkley in that dramatic fourth-quarter victory drive at Ohio State, allegedly received improper benefits as a student-athlete at USC.

Say it ain't so, Joe.

How ironic that, coming out of high school in Louisiana, McKnight was touted as the next Reggie Bush. Trojans fan everywhere now are praying that a second former Trojans tailback doesn't add the same outcome to his Trojans legacy and the university.

How ironic that Joe McKnight will play next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in the same MetLife Stadium that the Trojans will have battled Syracuse the previous day. Many Trojans fans scheduled next weekend's visit to The Big Apple to include Sunday's NFL game between the Jets and the Bills to see former Trojans Mark Sanchez and McKnight. Talk about timing.

How ironic that the week preceding his visit to the New York area to face the Orange, rather than discuss his Heisman Trophy aspirations and his resilient team, quarterback Matt Barkley figures to be peppered by the carnivorous New York media and other outlets with questions regarding Sunday's allegations about McKnight.

How ironic that with such intense security surrounding Trojans athletes in and around the new John McKay Center for athletes -- a fingerprint scan is required to gain clearance into the new facility -- the feeling of another potential "Bushgate" rises like the Phoenix.

Say it ain't so, Joe.

"We are dedicated to playing and competing the right way," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in response to the story, adding that the Trojans will do their own investigation, as well.

It's hard to fathom that the Trojans' respected athletic director and the university could do anymore than they've done. The athletic programs have been on virtual lockdown since the NCAA sanctions came down.

Trojans fans have been down this painful road before, and if you have that sinking feeling deep inside your gut, you're probably not alone. From president Max Nikias to Haden to the draconian rules that have been in place to prevent a recurrence of agents and runners contacting players, it's almost impossible to fathom that once again the Trojans could be revisited by that dreaded four-letter acronym -- NCAA.

Beleaguered Trojans fans, however, shouldn't push the panic button just yet, because the potential wheels of "justice" of the NCAA take time, and this year's team is about as pristine as they come, as is the entire sports department at this time. Nobody can argue with that, including the NCAA.

Trojans should know from recent experience not to jump to conclusions over what might happen, especially with the recent ruling by the NCAA over allegations of academic misdeeds at North Carolina, which concluded there were no wrongdoings.

Again, nothing has been proven, but the NCAA is sure to be circling the warm waters like hungry sharks, especially with the Trojans ranked the No. 1 team both in the country and in recruiting for the Class of 2013. The Trojans being No. 1 is not what the NCAA had in mind when it threw a sanctions haymaker at the Cardinal and Gold.

Perhaps unexpectedly, these revelations will provide the 2012 Trojans a realistic silver lining. Maybe all this McKnight hubris will further galvanize these Trojans in pursuit of a national championship. Maybe the latest lousy headlines will feed more fuel to the Trojans' fire as they head east for Syracuse.

Heading into this highly anticipated season of bowl freedom, the collective thinking was that there was finally a light at the end of a long NCAA tunnel. The Trojans family everywhere will be hoping that light doesn't reveal itself as the NCAA investigation train.

Say it ain't so, Joe.