Bleak future at USC

Somewhere in Westwood, UCLA head coach Rich Neuheisel is smoking a big fat cigar.

With the NCAA applying serious penalties against rival USC, that has to be the reaction from across town, right?

Lane Kiffin had to have some idea that ‘SC was in hot water with the NCAA when he left Tennessee to accept the head coaching job vacated when Pete Carroll left for the NFL. But could he have ever imagined this mess? Maybe limitations on recruiting, a loss of some scholarships, etc.

But this is big. Really big.

Throw out the fact that he was very familiar with the program and some of the veteran players, having served as an assistant on Carroll’s staff from 2001-06. If the brash Kiffin knew what he knows right at this moment, he would still be at Tennessee coaching the Vols.

But he isn’t in Knoxville anymore. He’s the new face of the Trojans and the guy who now is expected to get this program out of a mess that stems from its days as the premier program in America.

Those days as the “it” team are now over.

So what does the future hold for the ‘SC program?

Well, the team received a two-year bowl ban and a reduction of scholarships by 10 for the next three academic years. That’s an enormous blow. Forget about the buzz from conference expansion — this is USC receiving a penalty harsher than most people ever thought was possible.

The two-year hiatus from postseason play? What premier high school athlete in America would want to punt an opportunity to play in a potential BCS game and choose to go to 'SC? I don’t care how great Kiffin is at selling himself, his program and early playing time. Playing time for what? An 11-1 season and being home for the holidays? The only saving grace for Kiffin is that his 2011 class would only miss one year of the postseason. Still, one year is an eternity for an 18-year-old kid.

With the official word of these sanctions announced this afternoon, the days of getting the Dillon Baxters and Kyle Praters are over for USC — for a good while, too.

Ten scholarships being lost each of the next three years? Heck, with the postseason ban, the Trojans won’t need to worry about a lack of scholarships — not many kids will want to touch this team. What about the players on the current roster? How will this affect standouts like quarterback Matt Barkley, who was expected to take great strides under Kiffin’s tutelage? Will there be massive turnover on the roster because BCS games won’t be the ultimate prize for the next two seasons? For the juniors who may have come back for a senior season instead of entering the draft, the choice will be easy now.

And what about Kiffin? Last year, you thought he would be competing with Florida’s Urban Meyer in the SEC for many seasons to come, didn’t you? What happens if Miami (FL) struggles this year and Randy Shannon is let go. You think Kiffin wouldn’t jump the sinking ship?

As always, it’s a shame that the committers of the crime are not the ones being punished. Rather, it’s always the ones left standing to clean up the mess that have to pay the price. Reggie Bush will likely keep his tainted Heisman Trophy. Carroll will make his millions, take to Twitter and probably turn the Seattle Seahawks around with the help of general manager John Schneider. And O.J. Mayo will get coaches fired in the NBA.

For the football program, it must vacate victories in Bush's final season, including the 2005 Orange Bowl, where the Trojans smoked Oklahoma to win the BCS national championship. With the wiping away of that season comes a tarnishing of USC's storied history.

This penalty isn’t a slap on the wrist, but it isn’t the death penalty, either. But it’s big. Real big. And it could have USC reeling for years.

Remember the Paul Hackett days? The Trojans were decent but never great. That could be the program’s future, history revisited.

The days of weak NCAA penalties seem to be over, and no one is feeling the brunt of it more than Kiffin right now.

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