No team this season can play the we-have-something-to-prove card as well as Southern California. Coming off a sub-par year, with a new coach and no postseason possibilities, Lane Kiffin's Trojans do have some very real obstacles to overcome.
Of course, USC isn't alone. Here are six more teams facing crossroads of one sort or another.
CINCINNATI â€” Brian Kelly led the Bearcats to consecutive Big East titles and BCS games, unprecedented success for a program that has rarely been much better than mediocre. Now that Kelly has gone to Notre Dame, can Butch Jones keep the Bearcats contending for conference titles?
GEORGIA â€” Heading into the 10th year of Mark Richt's very successful tenure as Georgia coach, the Bulldogs have lost ground to rival Florida. While the Gators have won two national titles and played in the last three SEC titles games, Georgia looks like a program that missed its window of opportunity. That might be an overreaction, but, hey, that's SEC football.
MIAMI â€” Randy Shannon won five games in his first season as Miami coach, seven in Year 2 and nine in '09. By all accounts, he's been recruiting well, loading up on south Florida's finest. The U. seems poised for a return to the ranks of the elite â€” or at least for its first appearance in the ACC championship game. Can the Hurricanes take the next step?
OREGON â€” Jeremiah Masoli was one of the best quarterbacks in the country last season, a perfect fit for coach Chip Kelly's spread offense. One too many off-the-field issues got Masoli booted from the Ducks. Kelly dismisses any talk of his team being out to prove it can rise above the adversity and remain the Pac-10's best. But the strength and depth of the Ducks will be tested.
STANFORD â€” It would be easy to expect a step back from the Cardinal after the departure of Toby Gerhart, the Heisman runner-up. It might also be misguided. Coach Jim Harbaugh seems to have a program on the rise, with a future first-round draft pick at quarterback in Andrew Luck and enough talent to make Stanford legitimate Pac-10 contenders. The Cardinal have to prove they're here to stay.
TEXAS TECH â€” Mike Leach was the face of Texas Tech football. His pass-happy offense and offbeat personality made the Red Raiders relevant. Even his messy dismissal drew national headlines. Tommy Tuberville, a good but far less flashy coach, takes over and it's impossible not to wonder if the program will go back to being an afterthought.