There’s no sense in beating around the bush with this one. Pete Carroll has been both an ace recruiter and a prolific winner of games since he got to USC.
After going 7-6 in his first year, he has run off six consecutive seasons with two or fewer losses for a combined record of 69-8 (.896). Adding that first year on only brings him down to 76-14 (.844), still an outstanding mark.
There are those who keep meticulous details of the arrests, scandals, and other malfeasance that have gone on at USC this decade alongside all that winning. Through it all, Carroll has been the amazing Teflon coach, since very little seems to stick to him.
Plus, few have questioned the way he disciplines his players to the same degree that guys like Bobby Bowden and Bob Stoops have been scrutinized in the past.
Carroll has had a large built-in advantage when it comes to recruiting though: He coaches at USC, the only traditional national-title contender west of the Great Plains.
In 1984, BYU won the championship, in 1990, Colorado (AP and Coaches’ champs) split it with Georgia Tech (UPI poll champs), and in 1991, Washington (Coaches’ champ) split the title with Miami, FL (AP champ).
Before that, you have to go back to UCLA in 1954 to find a team other than USC located west of the Great Plains that won a national championship. Talented west-coast athletes that want to compete for a college championship without going too far from home have only one choice: USC.
Combine that with the fact that California is along with Texas and Florida one of the three best talent-producing states, and you have a formula for great success.
Anyway, let’s take a look at his record.
His one neutral site game against Virginia Tech in 2004 has been counted as a road game since it was played in FedEx Field, the home field of the Washington Redskins. That was done because it was Carroll’s one and only one neutral site game and singling it out would have served no purpose.
As you would expect, Carroll is excellent, no matter where he plays. The 39-3 (.929) home mark is certainly impressive. It is behind Stoops’ 53-2 (.963) home record, but from a winning percentage standpoint, it is on par with Steve Spurrier’s home mark while at Florida (68-5, .932).
It’s also worth noting that the home and away game totals are nearly identical. It reflects a greater willingness on Carroll’s part to go on the road in the non-conference schedule than other coaches who have a lot more total home games than road games.
Here is Carroll’s record broken down by tier of opponent. As always, first-tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.
|Tier||Wins||Losses||Pct.||Avg. Scored||Avg. Allowed|
Carroll’s 15-5 mark against the top tier is the best of all of the coaches I’ve studied so far. If you take out his first season, it comes out to 15-3 with the losses being at Kansas State and at Washington State in 2002, and to Vince Young and Texas in the incredible 2005 BCS Championship Game.
The second tier mark of 28-7 (.800) puts him in line with or behind some other coaches like Jim Tressel (31-5, .861), Les Miles at LSU (12-2, .857), Urban Meyer at Florida (16-3, .842), Bob Stoops (36-9, .800), and Mark Richt (32-8, .800). If you take out Carroll’s first year, that 28-8 mark improves to a 27-4 (.870) record though.
Of those two third-tier losses, I know you can name one. It was of course the loss at home to 4-8 Stanford last year. The other was a road loss to 5-6 Notre Dame in 2001.
I mentioned earlier that USC has had two or fewer losses for six consecutive seasons. I don’t know how impressive that sounds to you, but you should be very impressed. As far as I can tell (and correct me if I’m wrong), only three schools have matched or surpassed that in the past 30 years.
Florida did it for six seasons in a row from 1993 to 1998. Miami, FL did it eight seasons in a row from 1985 to 1992. Florida State did it 14 seasons in a row from 1987 to 2000. That’s it and that’s all.
It should come as no surprise that those teams reside in a talent factory of a state like USC does. It’s especially impressive when you consider that FSU and Miami kept their streaks alive while playing each other in 1987-92, and Florida and FSU kept their streaks alive while playing each other every year in 1993-98.
What about other big programs, you ask? For purposes of historical comparison, I looked for seasons with two or fewer non-wins—non-wins being losses or ties. I also restricted it to the college football’s modern era: 1946 to the present.
Oklahoma had the longest such streak pre-1980, spanning 11 seasons from 1948 to 1958. The next longest was Alabama at six seasons, from 1961 to 1966. After that? No one.
Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska only got to five in a row. The best, Georgia, Notre Dame, Penn State and Texas, have done is four in a row. USC pre-Carroll didn’t even make it to four.
That means Carroll is one of only five coaches to have six consecutive seasons with two or fewer non-wins in the modern era, along with Bowden, Spurrier, Bear Bryant, and Bud Wilkinson. That’s some pretty good company right there.
It does bring up a question though: What does it say about a conference when one team can dominate it by so much for so long? Miami was independent for most of its run, so toss them out. Florida’s run was aided somewhat by some lean years out of LSU and Georgia.
FSU began its streak independent, but it clearly benefited from joining an ACC with suspect credentials in football.
The Pac-10 has only been able to deal USC more than two losses once. USC was nearly unbeatable for anyone in 2003-05, but that still leaves 2002, 2006, and 2007 where the conference couldn’t break the spell.
It hasn’t had two teams in the BCS since 2002. It has become Carroll’s private fiefdom, with everyone else playing for second place.
Some people question whether USC can keep up its level of success. Was the Stanford loss a crack in the armor, or did the Trojans just catch the upset bug that got nearly everyone else last year? Will Rick Neuheisel get UCLA caught up to its cross-town rival? Will all of the success make the program complacent?
Regardless of what everyone else does, USC will continue to bring in top-shelf talent as long as Pete Carroll is there. Given his track record so far, I have a hard time seeing USC falling off dramatically any time soon.