Carroll continues coaching through tough times at USC |

Carroll continues coaching through tough times at USC

Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – After seven straight Pac-10 titles, disappointment just doesn’t stick to Pete Carroll. Not even when he’s preparing for the final games in a season that won’t end with an eighth league championship.

While fretting fans spent the bye week dissecting the No. 24 Trojans’ (7-3, 4-3) mistake-filled season and worrying about their prospects in the crosstown showdown against UCLA on Saturday, Carroll went back to work in his own inimitably energetic style.

When he isn’t breaking down film, counseling players or running from drill to drill in practice, he’s recommending Foo Fighters songs on his Twitter account or recruiting the Southland with zeal. His staff attempted to inspire the Trojans in recent days by showing them Kobe Bryant’s recent behind-the-backboard shot and a famed YouTube video of water buffaloes battling lions, with each clip attached to a motivational lesson.

A newcomer would never guess the Trojans are at their lowest point in eight years, with their worst ranking since finishing out of the final 2001 poll – and that’s exactly what Carroll wants.

“That’s part of the way we are,” Carroll said Tuesday. “We’re always having fun with what’s going on and trying to stay current as much as we can.”

Carroll believes it’s wise to immerse the Trojans in new media and forget about the recent past, specifically the 55-21 thrashing dished out by Stanford at the Coliseum in their last game. Carroll’s worst loss – his first in any November of his tenure – and USC’s worst defensive performance ever could have shaken one of college football’s most successful programs to its foundations, but the coach is confident USC is far from broken.

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Yet Carroll knows what’s been said about the Trojans in recent weeks, and he knows much of it isn’t kind. After seven years with almost no criticism of his on-field product, Carroll almost seems to believe he was overdue for a roasting of the type he experienced regularly in the NFL with New England and the New York Jets.

Center Jeff Byers and other players have a different take on the scrutiny from the fans who grouse the loudest on message boards and on campus.

“The issue is they’re spoiled,” Byers said. “We’ve done a great job spoiling them. We’ve created these expectations for us … and we let them down. When you do a lot of good things, you have a lot of people pulling for you. And when you don’t do well, you have a lot of people jumping off that bandwagon, and that’s good, that’s healthy.”

Carroll claims he never discusses the BCS with his teams until after the regular season ends, calling it “a waste of time,” so the Trojans haven’t noticed anything amiss this month.

“It is a young team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball,” Carroll said. “You have to live with it and deal with it. We’ve been able to survive quite well over the years. … To me, it’s exciting to try to meet those challenges. It’s exciting to try to come up with the right solutions to quell those concerns.”

Carroll realizes USC hasn’t quelled many of its fans’ concerns about what would happen to a team that lost most of its leadership to the NFL last spring, particularly early-entry quarterback Mark Sanchez and linebackers Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews. Quarterback Matt Barkley’s growing pains have been glaringly obvious in recent weeks, but Carroll has stood firmly behind both the freshman and his inconsistent line on a middle-of-the-Pac-10 offense.

USC faces the Bruins and Arizona in its final two games, with its postseason destination still totally up in the air. UCLA is on a three-game winning streak against the Pac-10’s worst three teams, but the rivalry matchup always brings out the rah-rah portion of Carroll’s coaching character.

“It can direct your focus, your attention, fuel you a little bit, but it can become a distraction,” Carroll said. “We don’t change how we prepare, so we have to deal with that and not get caught up in it and allow it to be an issue.

“The fact that some guy may be looking forward to hitting one of his old buddies instead of doing what he’s supposed to do, that can happen,” he added. “But that kind of thinking – putting your mind somewhere else than what’s your job – is really the issue. We deal with that at all times.”