“View from the Stands” is a column by Jimmy Goodman about USC sports.
At the end of the day, USC football’s biggest opponent is itself.
However, since the Trojans can’t officially take the field against themselves every week, maybe it’s best to pick another team.
Many would bring up classic challengers such as Notre Dame, UCLA or any other California school as the Trojans’ most important foes. Others might believe that recent Pac-12 title game programs such as Washington, Utah and Oregon pose the largest threat to USC’s place in the West.
I, however, would say that USC’s second biggest obstacle resides in Tempe, Ariz., where Arizona State has, somewhat quietly, built what may be the Pac-12’s sleeping giant. After a war of words exchanged on Twitter over the past few days, however, it seems like the Sun Devils don’t aim to be dormant for much longer.
Assistant coaches and key recruiters Prentice Gill and Chris Hawkins took to Twitter on Wednesday to claim the West Coast in the name of Arizona State.
The two sparky assistants have fair reason for pride. Despite not initially dominating the 2020 recruiting cycle and missing out on key recruits the year before such as USC defensive lineman Drake Jackson, Arizona State steamrolled through National Signing Day, finishing among the top 25 classes in the nation. Most importantly for the Sun Devils, they were able to land five of California’s top 25 recruits while the Trojans finished with only one local blue chip.
Responding to these claims, USC’s newest face of recruiting left an unambiguous response to the Sun Devil staffers.
Since publicly announcing his hiring, Donte Williams and newly hired Director of Graphic Design Alex Verdugo have been spreading the campaign #TakeBackTheWest. As an obvious reaction to USC’s historically poor 2020 recruiting class as well as noted fan distrust in coaches and staff, Williams’ recruiting strategy has injected some new life into the program’s brand and image as recruits and opponents alike have taken notice.
Making the Twitter war even more enticing is the ties between both the programs and the coaches themselves. Prentice Gill and Chris Hawkins are both former Trojans: Gill worked for USC in various capacities from 2014-2018, and Hawkins played safety on the team from 2013-2017 and served as a graduate assistant in 2019. Gill and Williams even served on the same staff a year ago at Oregon before taking jobs down South.
Certainly, one could look at this as simply business. But in the world of college football today, business is always personal.
While USC has many ties to former recruits, players and coaches that are now a part of programs up and down the West Coast, there is something about the Arizona State dynamic that simply feels different from the rest. In fact, it's the Sun Devils’ brand — eerily reminiscent of what made USC so attractive under Pete Carroll — that feels, well, personal to USC.
Heading into 2020, Arizona State and USC are the presumptive front runners in the Pac-12 South. Both teams carry star-caliber sophomore quarterbacks, a wealth of skill position talent and, admittedly, plenty of work yet to be done on the defensive side of the ball. Even the Parent Trap-esque fact that USC is led by an Arizona-born quarterback while ASU’s Jayden Daniels hails from California only adds to the ironic mystique of the Trojan-Sun Devil dynamic.
Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, it's clear that Arizona State is the actual threat in the West. So long as the Trojans expect to contend for Pac-12 South titles and conference championship berths, the Sun Devils will remain Troy’s biggest competitor.
On Twitter, on the couches of recruits’ homes and especially on the field, Arizona State will look to match or one-up the Trojans at every turn. Heading into a new decade, it is important that USC takes this threat seriously.
Nothing less than the fate of the West Coast hangs in the balance.
“View from the Stands” runs every other Thursday.