I hope it’s not too heretical for me to say that I wasn’t quite as impressed with Monte Kiffin’s coaching prowess in his return to the college ranks last year as others were. Sure, he had his moments against Georgia and Alabama (not so coincidently, the two SEC offenses most pro-style), but his boys stunk up the joint against the likes of Ohio, Auburn, Mississippi and Memphis.
My optimism about USC this season is based on the idea of Vito Kiffin (I'm going to guess that you'll figure out which Corleone son Lane represents) putting together an outstanding defense. In my head, I was imagining the performance of the Tennessee defense against Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Blutarsky makes a great point: Tennessee was considerably less effective against offenses that were not pro-style. The Vols' performance against Florida is an exception, but given the subsequent struggles of the Florida offense without Dan Mullen, maybe Tennessee holding the Gators to 23 points and 323 yards wasn't the epic achievement that it looked like at the time. Blutarsky also omits Tennessee's dreadful performance in the Chik-fil-A Bowl, in which the Vols allowed 37 points and 438 yards to Virginia Tech, another team that uses a non-pro-style offense.
So here are the questions:
1. Does USC have the talent on defense that we would expect? Recruiting rankings would say yes, but those rankings would have said the same thing about Georgia last year. I buy that there is value in recruiting rankings, but they aren't infallible.
2. Does Kiffin understand how to stop college spread offenses? Is he an example of a guy who had one great idea - the Tampa Two - and that idea works in a certain environment - the NFL, where everyone runs a version of the same offense - but he is exposed when his big idea encounters a different environment? Is he a finch on the wrong island, surrounded by predators that don't attack in a way to which he is accustomed?
3. Is Kiffin the same coach who was so good in the pros? Coaches can decline, just like players.
[A sidenote about the Corleone analogy above: Fredo jokes have been played out by this point. I recognize that. The problem is that the next f***up son I think of in popular culture is King Edward's son from Braveheart, but the portrayal of Prince Edward is so unbelievably homophobic that I feel bad using it as a running theme for Lane Kiffin. (With Mel Gibson's subsequent downfall in mind, it's hard to say that his characterization of Edward wasn't intentional.) So help me out here: give me a good example of a father-son duo from a movie where the father was outstanding and the son was an arrogant, entitled boob who didn't understand his own limitations.]