A Short History Lesson
The USC Trojans have been the premier college football program on the West Coast since 1962, when third-year head coach John McKay had a breakthrough season, going 11-0, winning the Rose Bowl, and being crowned National Champions in both the Associated Press and Coaches' Poll. The Trojans went on to be one of the most dominant programs of the 60s and 70s, winning a total of four national titles under McKay (1962, 1967, 1972, 1974) and a fifth under McKay's successor, John Robinson, in 1978.
When Don James became the Washington head coach in 1975, the Trojans were on a 10 year win streak against the Huskies and the previous three games against the Trojans had resulted in the Dawgs receiving major shellackings. James delivered a signature win against the Trojans in his first season as UW's head coach, winning ugly, by a final score of 8-7. Equally important, James embraced the notion of viewing the Trojans as the measuring stick for the Washington program, in terms of both success on the field and in recruiting.
In the 37 meetings between the teams since Don James arrived on Montlake, the Huskies have come up short more often than they have prevailed (especially during the early 2000s, oof), going 15-21-1 versus the Trojans. In terms of recruiting, the Trojans have essentially been able to pick and choose the players they wanted from Los Angeles and the West Coast in general, with exception of the last year or so, when the Huskies (and Ducks too, bleh) have broken Troy's complete stranglehold on top Western talent.
With the new divisional schedules in the expanded conference, the Huskies and Trojans do not meet up as often as they used to. The last time they met, USC put a major damper on the good vibes for Husky fans during the otherwise sterling 2016 regular season, beating the Dawgs at Montlake by a final score of 26-13. The underlying theme of that game was that the Trojans were still the Alpha program in the conference, Washington's excellent season notwithstanding.
Despite the Trojans' recent travails, the USC program remains as THE prestige brand name on the West Coast, both in terms of national media interest and recruiting might. Every opportunity to beat them is critical. In the old days, the road to the Rose Bowl almost always went through Troy. While the landscape has changed a bit, the importance of the game has not. At this stage, beating the Trojans is something the Husky program needs to reinforce its ascension to the top tier of the conference and to solidify the Washington 2.0 narrative in recruiting.
It remains to be seen whether Saturday's match up at Husky Stadium will turn out to be a pivotal moment in this series, or just another measuring stick game, but either way, it's really important.
Great Wins Against the Trojans
In the interest of getting our minds right for Saturday's game, let's look back at some of the games where the Huskies measured up against USC.
The Wind and Rain Game
In November of 1981 Marcus Allen and the Trojans game to Seattle for a battle that would likely decide which team would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. The weather was ugly, with constant rain and wind (some gusts were measured up to 60 mph), and the football was uglier. In the terrible conditions, the teams would combine for 302 total yards of offense, with Washington only gaining 120 of them. Oddly enough, despite the wind, the only offensive scores were two field goals, one for the Trojans and one 46-yarder by UW's legendary (can a kicker be legendary?) Chuck Nelson. A kick-off fumbled in the end zone by the Trojans and recovered by UW's Fred Small proved decisive in the 13-3 Washington victory.
The Huskies would go on to destroy 13th-ranked Iowa on New Year's Day by a score of 28-0 for Don James' second Rose Bowl victory.
The Student Gets the Better of the Teacher
I considered titling this one "The False Promise of an Improbable Upset", but thought that was a little too cynical. Anyway, of course this is the 2009 upset at Husky Stadium.
Head Coach Pete Carroll brought the #3 ranked Trojans to Seattle to presumably demolish the fragile Huskies, who were coached by Carroll's former assistant coach, Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies had finally snapped a 15 game losing streak by beating Idaho a week earlier, but I would guess that few UW fans who attended or tuned into that game expected to see anything other than a Husky loss. I was there and I just hoped it wouldn't be too humiliating.
But despite a talent advantage for the Trojans that was so large that it could be spotted with the naked eye from orbit, the Huskies hung in tough all afternoon (thanks Aaron Corp, we appreciate you), setting up an opportunity for Jake Locker to lead the Huskies to victory.
The 16-13 upset victory was so was so inspiring that I posted what is now an extremely cringe-worthy paean to Sark on Facebook at its conclusion. Facebook helpfully reminded me of the 10 year anniversary of that post the other day.
Trojan Revenge Derailed
The Huskies traveled to LA to play the Trojans in 2010 and the Trojans had revenge for the 2009 upset on their minds. Pete Carroll had moved on by then and the Trojans were coached by Joey Freshwater, I mean Lane Kiffin, who was likely eager to strut his stuff against former colleague Sark in a veritable chess match between Carroll's two previous bro-Cs (I could do these Kiffin and Sark jokes all day, but I will stop now).
Yadda-yadda-yadda, Locker got a chance to lead the Huskies on a game winning drive again and he did (final drive starts at 8:43 in the video).
Death Row for Sark
Sarkisian left Washington for his dream job at USC following (or during, if we are talking mentally and emotionally) the 2013 season. The two teams did not play in 2014, so this was the first opportunity for Sark's former Husky players to show him how they felt about that whole thing. It was also the game where I realized that the Husky "Death Row" defense was really something special.
Not to be mean, but this game also marked somewhat of a turning point in Sark's career and personal life, to put it lightly.
The entire game:
"All I Saw was Purple"
Of course this was the one I had to end on. So much has been written and said about it already, there isn't much point in me going into a ton of detail. It was an awesome afternoon at Husky Stadium and it was the game that put everybody on notice that the Huskies were a force to be reckoned with. I miss the 1990s, in so many ways.