Two months into the season both the USC Trojans and their quarterback Todd Marinovich find themselves in unlikely, and unaccustomed, places. With two conference losses, USC has been all but eliminated from the Rose Bowl picture, while Marinovich is on the bench. The 21-year-old sophomore quarterback, who began the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate and was said to be pondering an early departure for the NFL (SI, Sept. 3), has performed erratically on the field and has had some difficulties off it as well.
On Oct. 23 coach Larry Smith suspended Marinovich for last Saturday's game against Arizona State for skipping classes in his major, fine arts. Smith acted after Marinovich's drawing teacher told quarterbacks coach Ray Dorr that Marinovich had attended only four classes since the semester began on Sept. 4. Also last week Marinovich came down with a painful ear infection that prevented him from practicing with the team. Smith replaced Marinovich with senior Shane Foley, who led the Trojans to a 13-6 win over the Sun Devils.
A great deal has been expected of Marinovich since he arrived at USC from Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif. This year Smith was relying on a seasoned Marinovich to provide consistent leadership for a team with a strong attack but an inexperienced defense. Instead Marinovich has been unpredictable. On Sept. 15 he shone in a 19-14 win over Penn State, completing 22 of 34 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. But a week later, in a 31-0 loss to Washington, he was a lackluster 7 of 16 for 80 yards and threw two interceptions. The Trojans beat Ohio State 35-26 on Sept. 29, but Marinovich had a disappointing 11-of-23, 119-yard, two-interception day. He rebounded nicely in big wins over Washington State and Stanford, but against Arizona the week before his suspension he threw three interceptions in a 35-26 loss that snuffed out the Trojans' Rose Bowl hopes.
Marinovich graded so poorly in the Arizona game (61 compared to his season average of 84.7 on a scale devised by his coaches) that had he not been suspended because of the absences from class, he might not have started the Arizona State game anyway. "The position was up for grabs," said Smith.
November 5, 1990
Perhaps most disappointing to USC has been Marinovich's failure to set an example as a team leader. Earlier in October, after he was notified that his poor attendance would not be excused, Marinovich promised his parents and Smith that there would be no further absences. But in the week before the Arizona loss, he missed an 8 a.m. art lab. Marinovich said the absence was unavoidable. Still, Smith said, "he broke the agreement," and the coach benched his star.
Dorr, who says that he is extremely close to the quarterback, and has seen Marinovich virtually every day since he arrived at USC, said he was concerned about Marinovich's behavior. "You'd be a fool not to worry," Dorr said. Marinovich spent most of last weekend at his mother Trudi's house in Balboa and did not return calls. Referring to Todd's missed classes, Trudi said, "We are going to have very serious discussions about responsibility."
Whatever the cause of Marinovich's malaise, Dorr is convinced that he will benefit from having lost his job, at least temporarily, to Foley. "We are really going to see now just what type of person Todd Marinovich is," Dorr said. "My guess is that this whole thing will be good for him. He's got too many high-set goals for himself. I think Todd will rise to the occasion."