LOS ANGELES -- We haven’t even reached the homestretch of November, and the USC Trojans (3-3 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) remaining hopes of a Pac-12 South division title in 2015 will likely sink or swim on the outcome of this Saturday’s visit from the No. 3 Utah Utes (6-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12).
Preseason predictions expected the Trojans to be heading into Saturday’s game with Utah as the big bully of the Pac-12. Instead, in a stunning role reversal, it’s the Utes that are positioning themselves for a conference title and strong consideration for an invitation into the College Football Playoff.
When the Trojans have been their dominant old selves, their calling card has traditionally been that of physical and intimidating brutes.
Now, however, it’s the Utes that bring the pain and indigestion. They play with big hearts and big bodies and, unlike the Trojans, you would be hard-pressed to find any player in their lineup coming out of high school that was considered a five-star prospect. They do it the hard way. They look for a certain type of athlete, develop them, and create energy to go along with their manliness.
Whether 11-year head coach Kyle Whittingham can sustain the current high level of play over the long haul remains to be seen.
What is known, however, is that Whittingham’s name has been attached to rumors regarding the recently opened USC coaching position. A graduate of BYU who originally came to Utah as a defensive line coach, he could be the kind of USC head coach that would bring back physicality and a defensive mindset to the program.
And he comes from the Urban Meyer coaching tree, which has been successful for other universities.
Asked during this week’s Pac-12 coaches’ conference call about being a candidate for the USC position, Whittingham replied, "I never make any comments on any job speculation one way or the other. Why speculate on speculation? It doesn't make sense."
That’s not an outright rejection of any job interest.
Whittingham, 55, is gentlemanly in public and keeps a low profile, so jumping into the fishbowl of the L.A. market and the rabid USC fan base could be a challenge to the relatively private life he enjoys in Salt Lake City.
However, Whittingham also knows that by taking the Trojans gig he would be in the College Football Playoff conversation on a yearly basis, he could sustain a high level of football excellence over a long period of time, and he could secure long-term financial security for his family.
And Whittingham is well aware there is no debate regarding the Trojans current level of talent. The talent cupboard is nearly stocked full of former high-level local and national recruits.
Pac-12 head coaches rarely change schools within the conference. The most recent switcheroo was former Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, who left the University of Washington to return to Los Angeles.
The Trojan also had another former coach, the late Larry Smith (1987-1992), who made an in-conference change when Smith waved good-bye to the Arizona Wildcats. All Smith did was take the Men of Troy to three consecutive Rose Bowls before eventually being fired.
Despite their disappointing season thus far, USC is still the favorites on Saturday to defeat Whittingham’s Utes, but Trojans fans should use more than the usual amount of scrutiny in watching the two teams compete. The next time they see Whittingham at the Coliseum, there’s a chance he might be standing on the home team sideline wearing cardinal and gold.