LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Steve Sarkisian probably couldn’t have asked for a better lead-in to 2015 than his team’s wild 45-42 victory on Saturday night over Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
The victory over the Cornhuskers gives a positive national perception heading into the Trojans' offseason that the best is yet to come in the Sarkisian era. It also comes with higher expectations than the 9-4 record in 2014.
Sarkisian knows that and he’s already framing next season as something special for the Trojans' faithful.
Even before Saturday’s victory, Sarkisian was beating the positive drum for 2015. It was reminiscent of his highly optimistic hiring day address in the John McKay Center back in December 2013.
“We’re gonna be real good next year,” a supremely confident Sarkisian told a media gathering on the eve of the Holiday Bowl.
After Saturday night’s win, Sarkisian once again took the opportunity to crank up the celebratory bubble machine by saying, “Our future, and I’ll say it again, is ridiculously bright.”
And moments later in an assessment of the just concluded 2014 season, the Trojans' first-year head coach added, “First of all, it was a total success. We won nine games; we were Holiday Bowl champions.”
Yes, a nine-win season puts a nice bow on top of the 2014 seasonal package, but it won’t be considered acceptable if history repeats itself in 2015. Trojans athletic director Pat Haden has already said on the record that an eight-win regular season is unacceptable at USC.
From Sarkisian’s perspective, he believes that next season will be bigger and better. And why not after learning that junior standout quarterback Cody Kessler will return for his senior season. Kessler is expected to be a strong candidate for next season’s Heisman Trophy.
The optimism goes beyond Kessler’s return. A very talented offensive line will be more experienced, the roster will increase, and a 2015 recruiting class expected to be among the best in the nation arrives.
The win over Nebraska, coming just weeks after the Trojans destroyed another storied football brand name in Notre Dame, certainly provides great recruiting fodder. The Trojans are currently ranked 10th in ESPN’s national recruiting rankings. A top-5 finish is certainly within reach if all goes according to expectations.
No wonder Sarkisian is as upbeat these days as if he just won the California Lottery.