Doc 5: Top five late-season collapses -- No. 1 USC

Sam Cooper
PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans is hit by Anthony Barr #11 of the UCLA Bruins as he throws during the third quarter at Rose Bowl on November 17, 2012 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

This offseason we will count down various topics from Monday through Friday, bringing you the top five of the important and definitely some not so important issues in college football. It's the Doc Five, every week until we will thankfully have actual games to discuss.

With the calendar turning over to May this week, we’re only four months away from the start of the 2014 college football season.

Since May Day is not really celebrated much these days, we turned our focus for this week’s Doc Five toward “mayday,” you know, the distress signal used on boats in emergency situations.

How does that apply to college football?

It doesn’t exactly, but it got us thinking about teams over the past 15 seasons who have got off to fast starts but collapsed down the stretch and needed to signal in a mayday.


No. 1 – 2012 USC

Expectations were sky-high for the 2012 USC Trojans, who were riding high following a 10-2 record in 2011, including a late-season triumph over fourth-ranked Oregon -- the eventual Pac-12 champions.

The beginning of the 2012 season marked the end of the program’s two-year postseason ban as part of the NCAA sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush situation in which he and his family accepted financial benefits and housing while playing at USC. Lane Kiffin’s team returned 18 total starters and welcomed in Penn State transfer Silas Redd to add to thousand-yard rusher Curtis McNeal and thousand-yard receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

On top of that, with the team eligible for postseason play, All-American quarterback Matt Barkley announced that he would return to school for his senior season with the hopes of bringing a national title to Los Angeles.

“This 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to and I plan to play a part in it,” Barkley said.

Despite entering the season ranked No. 1 in the polls, things did not go as planned for the Trojans.

The Trojans made quick work of Hawaii and Syracuse to begin the year to set up a rematch with Stanford, a team who had beaten the Trojans in three straight seasons. After two Redd touchdown runs put the Trojans up 14-7, USC’s offense was shut out the rest of the way and a fourth quarter touchdown catch from Stanford tight end Zach Ertz ultimately sealed a fourth straight win in the series for the Cardinal.

The loss was a rough setback for a team that had its sights set on the ultimate prize, but the Trojans were able to bounce back with a win over Cal the following Saturday. After a bye, the Trojans got back into a groove, knocking off Utah and Washington on the road before demolishing Colorado 50-6 at home.

The 6-1 Trojans worked back up to No. 10 in the AP poll with 4-3 Arizona next on the schedule. A win over the Wildcats would set up a crucial conference matchup the following weekend at home against No. 2 Oregon.

Despite an incredible 16-catch, 345-yard and two touchdown performance from Lee, the Trojans blew a 15-point second half lead to allow the Wildcats to come back and pull off a 39-36 upset. It was a crushing defeat, especially for a team that put up 618 yards of total offense. A Redd touchdown run got the Trojans within three points with 4:40 to go, but Kiffin’s bunch ultimately could not overcome five turnovers and 13 penalties

The following week, Oregon’s fast-paced offense blitzed the Trojans’ average-at-best defense, putting up 34 first-half points. USC put forth a gritty effort, but it never really had a chance to keep up with Oregon. The final score, 62-51, makes the game seem closer than it was.

A homecoming victory over Arizona State in Week 10 gave the Trojans some life with two rivalry games on the schedule to round out the year, but the Trojans predictably dropped back-to-back games to UCLA and Notre Dame to end the regular season with a disappointing 7-5 record.

With Barkley sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Trojans’ completely disastrous season came to a close with an embarrassing 21-7 Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.

The Trojans became the first team to begin a season ranked No. 1 and finish the same season with six losses. Additionally, The Trojans also were the first school since 1964 to end a season unranked after being the top-ranked preseason team. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

The season put Kiffin firmly on the hot seat, and hours after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State in Week 5 of the 2013 season, Kiffin was fired by USC athletic director Pat Haden.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!