The Trojans were undefeated and stacked with talent, including the best running back tandem in the country, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Yet Carroll couldn't help but get wistful at the rare miss.
"I wanted Adrian Peterson in the worst way," Carroll said of losing out to OU for the star.
While there is no denying Peterson's outrageous ability, the idea of adding him to a potent backfield of future pros, where carries were already in short supply, seemed rather, well, greedy.
What would you do with Peterson anyway, Carroll was asked.
"Play him," he said with a laugh.
Greed generally is good when it comes to recruiting. If you can sign every great player in the country – or at least the majority of them in talent-rich California – then why wouldn't you?
Carroll has come close to doing just that. And in the bizarro world of the BCS, it's killing him.
Not on the field, where his latest powerhouse team is 7-1 and just outscored its last five opponents 214-20.
In the BCS standings though, SC's recruiting dominance has left its conference in shambles, one strength-of-schedule-sinking opponent after the next. Saturday's 56-0 destruction of Washington somehow caused the Trojans to drop from No. 5 to No. 7.
"The more we win, the worse we get," Carroll joked to reporters Sunday.
The more Carroll recruits, the worse everyone gets. These Pac-10 opponents are lousy for a reason. Half their starters are sitting on the Trojans' bench.
While greed at times can be a fine thing for the greedy, it also can produce unintended negative consequences. For Carroll it's this: he has run the nation's best program for a while but has just one BCS title to show for it.
The reason is the system's computers hate him. They may like Karl Marx, though, or at least a good old-fashioned mercy rule.
If each February Carroll would sign what he needs, not what he wants, maybe the rest of his league could play a lick. Forget "Fight On!" Let's try, "Share."
You know, rather than take another man-eating linebacker, maybe allow Washington State to have him.
Or perhaps he could create a welfare program, a rent-a-star system. The Trojans' third-string quarterback is Mitch Mustain, who went 7-1 as a freshman starter at Arkansas before transferring.
He's really good, even if Carroll has no use for him at the moment. So couldn't they ship him out to say, Arizona State, at least during nonconference play? He'd get a little seasoning, help the league's computer power and then come back and hold a clipboard. It's win-win.
It seems apparent these other schools can't do it on their own. Would it be so bad if USC got a little worse so the rest of the league could get a little better?
Or is 1-6 against the Mountain West acceptable?
Recruiting rankings won't tell you everything, but they'll tell you something. From 2004 to 2007 (the current fifth-year seniors to sophomores) USC signed Rivals.com's No. 1 class nationally three times. The other year it came in second.
The problem is only once did another Pac-10 team sign a top-10 class. Only five times did anyone manage to crack the top 20.
Essentially, USC got all the recruits. Carroll convinced them that practice time at USC is more valuable than playing time at UCLA. Hey, it worked for Matt Cassel, who couldn't start for the Trojans but does for the New England Patriots.
The Pac-10 is fueled by the annual mother lode of California high school players. For the league to thrive, they need to spread out.
Instead, the majority head to the L.A. Coliseum. USC annually signs between six and eight of the top 10 players in California. It often gets the very best three, four or even six. When you consider Notre Dame grabs one or two of the other available stars, the rest of the league is practically shut out.
From 2005-08, USC signed 29 recruits ranked in the top 50 nationally. The other Pac-10 schools combined to sign four.
This weekend, the Trojans play No. 21 California. It's the last chance to impress pollsters and computers alike against a quality opponent. It won't be enough. The BCS title game is going to happen without them, again. Not that the Trojans have much of an argument at this stage. They lost to Oregon State, which unbeaten teams Utah and Penn State both handled.
Obviously, avoiding the annual stumble to a weaker league foe would be the easiest solution for SC's title drought. Unlike other big-time leagues though, the Pac-10 doesn't allow for a recovery.
In an effort to help his strength of schedule, Carroll plays a nonconference slate like no other. Not only are there no teams from the old Division I-AA, such as the ones Big Ten powers play, it's generally devoid of mid-majors. He even welcomes the challenge of real road games – at Auburn, Arkansas, BYU, Notre Dame, etc.
Not even that can save him.
If there was a playoff, USC might have three or four national titles. Since there isn't, its postseason satisfaction has to come from running up the score in the Rose Bowl.
Drastic disappointment calls for drastic measures. Greed has served the Trojans well. Perhaps a little situational socialism might serve them even better. Redistribute the wealth! Tax the rich! Send that 4.4 speedster to Washington so they can beat somebody, anybody!
Ah, perhaps not.
Carroll is expected to sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class again. No other Pac-10 team is expected to threaten the top 15. Four of the top five California seniors already have committed to USC. The other is headed to Notre Dame.
The Trojans' feast is the Pac-10's famine. If greed is how it's going to be, then back to Plan A. Sign them all and don't dare lose.
- Pete Carroll
- The Trojans