Get ready for an incongruous sight this weekend:
The grandbaby of them all.
"I can't tell you the history of the game," Carroll said during a pre-Emerald Bowl press junket in San Francisco with Boston College coach
It's definitely not the Rose Bowl -- the game USC considers its birthright. Not a BCS Bowl. Not a bowl in the month of January. The Dec. 26 Emerald Bowl is not exactly the kind of postseason prize Carroll's Trojans seek.
"It was a challenging season for us," Carroll said. "One that we're not accustomed to. We had to take our knocks. It's a season that will have an effect on us."
After spending most of the first decade of the 21st century as the dominant program in college football, Carroll is seeing the 2000s out in odd fashion.
The 8-4 Trojans have dropped out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in eight years. They've had their worst season since Carroll's first in 2001, finishing in the middle of the Pac-10. They aren't headed to either the Rose Bowl or the national championship game for the first time in six seasons.
They've also slipped in another key ranking: recruiting. Usually listed among the top five recruiting classes and snaring every big-time player West of the Mississippi, USC has been downgraded by various recruiting Web sites to anywhere from No. 10 to No. 19.
And then there's ithe mage pummeling that has taken place in recent weeks. The national examination of Carroll's coaching etiquette. The bizarre
Unusually rough times in Troy. Does such a stretch give Carroll more appreciation for his run of sustained excellence?
"I don't know if it gives me more appreciation," he said. "It's been cause for a lot of frustration at not being able to pull it off. We've taken a lot of pride in being able to do that."
Year after year, Carroll has been able to reload. While players depart for the NFL, he's seamlessly slipped others into their places. But this season, he couldn't find an answer for his nine departed seniors on defense and his starting quarterback
"We've always had big transitions, going back to
And while Carroll defends
"We weren't quite able to get it done," he said.
So how does Carroll motivate his team -- kids who came to USC to win a national championship -- for the Emerald Bowl? In past years, he's been asked that same question about settling for the Rose Bowl.
"We love to play games," Carroll insisted. "Our team will get pumped up for this one and we'll put everything into it."
Emerald bowl director
"We have to adjust some things and get ourselves on track to get back to the level of play we're after," he said. "We're already starting that transition."
The most exciting part of the Emerald Bowl may be the postgame handshake. You know it's been a down season for the Trojans when coaching manners have been discussed more than victories.
In November, after Stanford coach
As if to prove those onlookers' point, two weeks later, Carroll had another etiquette moment. Happy to take a knee against rival UCLA in the final minute, Carroll didn't like it when Bruins coach
"Whenever a coach makes a decision like that he's doing it for his team," Carroll said. "I have no problem with it. He gets to do whatever he wants on their side of the field and we get to do whatever we want on our side of the field.
"We went into the same mode two weeks later against UCLA," he added. "Totally different circumstances, but the same outlook. You have to make that decision and you go with it."
The result of his late-game decision against UCLA was a lopsided 28-7 victory. One of the few moments, in this incongruous year, of that old-time Trojan dominance.