Much is made of revenge in college football. By itself, revenge is a fickle mate. The idea that one game can make up for another is a notion that permeates the sport. Clemson loses to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game two seasons ago only to exact some revenge this past January. But does it actually work like that? Can it work like that?
The reality is it cannot. Those that moved onto to the NFL or graduated cannot get revenge from a game they didn’t play. No matter what Clemson did last year, they will still go down as the national runner-up to Alabama the year before. Should Alabama beat Clemson for the national title this year, the Crimson Tide still won’t be able to eliminate that earlier L to the Tigers.
That’s why I find the ads for Saturday’s Texas vs. USC game so odd. It makes sense for ESPN/ABC to replay that clip of Vince Young scoring the title-winning TD against USC back in 2006, but then the lights go out and the voiceover mentions making it right or allowing it to fester. The 2006 BCS National Championship Game in the Rose Bowl has nothing to do with the present state of both programs, especially Texas. As it stands, both Texas and USC are trying to do anything they can to reclaim a spot among the ranks of college football’s elite programs. It isn’t so much about making it right as it is about setting these programs right.
The Trojans appear to be closer to reaching the summit than their Big 12 counterpart. The Longhorns haven’t had a winning season since 2013 and haven’t played in any type of championship game since ’09. USC won the Rose Bowl last year, but hasn’t played for a national title since 2006, something Trojans fans don’t need to be reminded about. If anything, the clips from ‘06 remind them of what could be with the amount of talent they have, whereas it reminds Texas’ Tom Herman of the goals he set for himself when he left Ohio State to strike out as a first-time head coach.
Each fan base is going to view this game a little differently. Texas fans may be more apt to bring up the past, as it currently benefits them to distract from the fact that the Longhorns are nowhere near the program they once were. Few doubt Herman’s ability to get the job done, but he will need time. One year simply isn’t enough time to evaluate Herman’s impact on Texas, let alone three weeks into his first season.
The Longhorns are currently 1-1 after losing their home opener to Maryland by 10 points and then hammering San Jose State 56-0 this past Saturday. It’s not the raucous start some were expecting given Herman’s reputation for getting things off the ground quickly. Even still, he is tearing it up on the recruiting trail for Texas and it’s probably only a few years before this team is capable of taking on the nation’s very best. USC getting Texas right now is probably the best thing that could happen to the Trojans.
The Trojans also are in the process of building something new. Clay Helton’s first year on the job as the official head coach means more scrutiny. Saturday’s big win over Stanford is sure to boost the confidence of Helton, offensive coordinator Tee Martin, and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, as well as that of the players. The Cardinal were the Trojans’ 800-pound gorilla they had desperately been trying to get off of their backs, and they finally did so, and in impressive fashion no less. The climb back to the top begins with one foot in front of the other and Stanford was the first foothold the Trojans needed to grab if they want to compete for a national title.
So Saturday night’s game in the Coliseum will offer those watching the opportunity to dwell on the past or focus on the present. How each program chooses to view their respective lens to the past is likely to determine what they gain from it. Rather than trying to use the past to dictate the present, these coaching staffs will use the past as a platform to showcase how good each program can be going forward.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, these programs will not be automatically restored to the greatness they enjoyed in 2006. That only happens with hard work, top recruiting, and the ability to put it all together on the field of play. Revenge cannot happen on Saturday, no matter how the game is marketed. The promise of a better tomorrow is an option, however. This game is a program builder and mentality setter. While neither team should treat this game as the epilogue to what happened more than a decade ago, both of these schools should treat it as the start of a new era filled with promise and potential.