Penn State notwithstanding, it's been a rough couple weeks for traditionalist fashion. First Washington State broke out its alternative look last month, immediately followed Arizona State's all-black revamp, which proved to be even edgier than the school had hoped. Then there was Oklahoma State's promise for a makeover that would make it "the Oregon of the Midwest." And now the latest evidence that Team Nike is winning the fashion war: USC may be planning to roll out alternative uniforms for this November's date with UCLA.
Not "alternative" as in "throwback," or asking for permission for both teams to wear their home darks. I mean "alternative" as in "literally every person over the age of 21 is going to consider this an abomination to their meticulously cultivated sense of tradition." According to beat writer Scott Wolf, "It currently looks like USC will wear cardinal jerseys, cardinal pants and a black helmet" to meet the Bruins in the L.A. Coliseum on Nov. 26, which would mark the first time the Trojans have altered the scarlet helmet/yellow pants motif in 1,000 years. Or at least since 1964, and probably long before that. Color pictures are rare, but they appear to have worn scarlet on yellow or gold since before the start of the Great Depression, when Marion Morrison — later known as John Wayne — played tackle in the mid-'20s. The Duke would never approve black helmets.
In all likelihood, neither would the USC administration. But the reason a rumor like this one has any traction at all, as Wolf points out, is that it so succinctly illustrates the balance of power on the West Coast: Oregon-style black helmets and uniforms does sound exactly like the kind of offensive that Lane Kiffin — and maybe only Lane Kiffin — would attempt to launch after a) Watching his team get blown out by the Ducks for the second year in a row, this time on its own field, and b) Watching a prized recruit who grew up in USC's breakfast nook, De'Anthony Thomas, spurn the Trojans at the last second in favor of Oregon, emerging for a signing-day ceremony less than a mile from the SC campus decked out head-to-toe in gaudy Oregon swag to wrap up the best recruiting class in school history. (That was hardly the first time he'd shown a preference for Oregon gear.) If it sounds even remotely plausible that USC might go the alternative route, that's another indication in itself of just how far the fault lines have shifted since the Ducks promoted Chip Kelly.
[UPDATE, 5:54 a.m. ET, 05/11] Wolf posted Tuesday night that a USC official has confirmed that the Trojans are considering several alternate uniforms, including the black helmet/cardinal pants look and white pants with cardinal stripes, but nothing has been decided. Early reaction, predictably, has been "overwhelmingly negative."