- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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On the morning before the FedEx Orange Bowl in January, someone floated the concept of a Trojans dynasty before USC coach Pete Carroll. With a defeat of Oklahoma the next night, USC would have 22 consecutive victories, a record of 36-3 (.923) over three seasons, and, most important, back-to-back national championships.
"The big D word," Carroll said. "I think anybody that makes that statement is like people talking in the third person."
Regardless of what Pete Carroll thinks of Pete Carroll, his Trojans' 55-19 trouncing of the Sooners confirmed that the 53-year-old coach will begin this season with the opportunity to become the blocking, tackling, sprinting embodiment of the D word.
The Trojans, having shared the national championship with LSU two years ago, won it unanimously last season. Despite the score, you could throw the same parade for the Sooners. In the last five seasons, they have a record of 60-7 (.896) and won the 2000 national championship.
Dynasty is defined by dominance over an extended period of time. It's the time that is the tricky part. College football is an ephemeral sport. Rosters turn over. Offenses get an edge, defenses catch up and the cycle starts anew. Players and coaches hungry for success get their fill and forget what it's like to be hungry.
There is the limit of 85 scholarships, instituted to spread the wealth of talent. There is the constant chatter of the Internet. There is the manic level of expectations from fans paying four figures annually for the opportunity to buy season tickets, and from athletics directors who have to raise the money to pay seven figures to their coaches.
Asked recently about the expectations he has generated, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops responded as if he had been asked about the latest plot twists on "The O.C."
"It doesn't really matter to me whether we are picked favorites or not," Stoops said. "You have to earn your way. I say it a lot, or every year. As long as they are going to let us play, it doesn't much matter. Whoever it is, they are going to earn their way and fight for it."
That attitude makes all the difference, said a coach who should know. From 1987 through 2000, Florida State finished in the top five of the final poll every year.
"The first thing you have to do is defeat complacency," Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said Monday. Later in the day, the players would report for his 30th season in Tallahassee. "That's true in anything. If you're real successful, you start neglecting the little things."
Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt served as defensive coordinator for Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami in a three-year period (1986-88) when the Hurricanes won one national championship and lost to the eventual No. 1 in the other two seasons.
"I think it really falls on the attitude of the head coach," Wannstedt said. "Can he withstand the rumors of his leaving? Can he withstand the accolades and the pats on the back that come with winning? Jimmy was the best at that, at approaching every year as a new year and taking nothing for granted. That would be the thing that makes the difference. Pete has done an unbelievable job of doing that."
That is the cost of winning. The pressure can drain even the toughest coaches of their resilience. When, months after their first national championship in 45 seasons, LSU fans booed the Tigers in an early-season game, coach Nick Saban decided the time had come to update his résumé. He's in the NFL now.
Another cost of winning is imitation. Schools trying to imitate the champion come after the assistant coaches. One of the most remarkable aspects of Florida State's 14-year run is that the nucleus of Bowden's staff remained intact. It's no coincidence that the run stopped when longtime assistants Chuck Amato and Mark Richt left after 2000 to become head coaches at North Carolina State and Georgia, respectively.
"With that goes a certain chemistry," Bowden said. "Can you continue that with four or five different minds?"
Carroll did lose four assistant coaches after last season, including offensive coordinator Norm Chow, but two of the replacements had worked for Carroll at USC. He promoted graduate assistant Ken Norton Jr. to linebackers coach. Quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian returned to USC after a one-year stint in the NFL. He and newly promoted offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin both worked with quarterback Matt Leinart under the tutelage of Chow.
Carroll faces the future with new blood on the staff and a team largely made up of potential stars. They have watched their older teammates succeed. What Carroll achieved in the last four years, he did with a core of players he recruited, nurtured and taught from the year he arrived. That group, with the exception of a handful of fifth-year players -- one of whom won the Heisman Trophy last year -- has gone.
This year's Trojans are long on talent, less so on experience. The same goes for the Sooners, who lose their quarterback, wide receivers and nearly the entire offensive line. But schools that have won 12 Associated Press national championships between them have an advantage available to only a handful of schools.
"What longevity gives you, if you achieve success, is tradition," said Lloyd Carr, who has won 95 games, four Big Ten titles and one national championship in 10 seasons at Michigan. "Tradition is a critical part of any enduring success, in my opinion. To be successful for a long period of time, if you don't have tradition, you're going to have one hell of a hard time beating the people who have it. That tradition will get you through some of the down times."
In dynastic terms, the down times at USC lasted 20 years, from the end of the first John Robinson era in the early 1980s to the moment in mid-2002 when Carroll's team began to click. When the Trojans did click, USC became USC again. Carroll has taken advantage of that expectation of success and made the Trojans' faithful hungry for more.
"He could have had 10 NFL jobs last year if he wanted," Wannstedt said of Carroll. "He's done a good job of making it real clear he's happy at USC. He's handled everything the right way. It's the perfect fit."
The perfect fit? It's a size D.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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