After falling from No. 1 in the country to a four-loss team struggling in all phases of the game, Lane Kiffin's 2012 Trojans have been a tremendous disappointment. But don't expect a kneejerk reaction from the USC administration regarding replacing the head coach at this time.
Certainly many aspects of the program can't stay the same, but that doesn't mean everything, including the man running the show, will be changed.
According to Kiffin, USC athletic director Pat Haden assured the third year head coach he would be back for a fourth. At that point the Trojans would be through the majority of NCAA sanctions, including the bowl ban, two of the three "75" seasons -- the final sanctioned recruiting class would sign letters of intent just weeks after the season ended.
It would be a much easier time for the program to conduct a coaching search if that 2013 squad resembles the disjointed, out-of-sync team that was on the field this season.
Under normal circumstances, a head coach that fell short of expectations, embarrassed the program with petty off the field issues and wasn't hired by the current athletic director at a college football power like USC would be on the hot seat and likely on his way out.
But Trojan football doesn't exist under normal circumstances right now because of the NCAA sanctions.
At no time in the history of college football has a team had to compete at the highest level despite signing just 60% of the normal allotment of players for three straight years.
There was no blueprint in place for Lane Kiffin to study when it came to losing 30 scholarships and playing 10 men down on the field. He came up with his own plan and so far, at least off the field, it has been a winner.
Lane Kiffin's impressive 2011 season and expert navigation of the NCAA sanctions has bought him some time, but not much time. Another year of uninspired play and off the field gaffes would almost certainly mean the end of the Kiffin era.
Unfortunately for Kiffin, winning in 2013 is going to be much tougher task, at least on paper, than winning in 2012.
Despite what you hear from some of the national pundits, USC didn't lose four games because of a lack of depth.
If you look up and down the two-deep roster, you see one filled with talented four- and five-star scholarship players. The offense returned almost everyone and the defensive line that was supposed to be an issue ended up being one of the strengths of the team with an infusion of young players.
Depth was not the issue for this team. Talent wise, this group of 75 should have been better than most, if not all, of those 85's they played.
The sanctions have been a serious problem to overcome, but they just can't be used as an excuse this season. You can justify losing a game or maybe two because of sanctions, but certainly not four (and possibly more). The more talented team isn't winning and that isn't because of scholarship limitations.
Next season, scholarship reductions are much more likely to have an impact, but because Lane Kiffin navigated the turbulent recruiting waters so well, the team this season was set up to win.
Going forward, we do expect Pat Haden to retain Kiffin, but to also make some significant changes.
We believe Monte Kiffin will stay with the program, but not as a member of the coaching staff. He will likely stay with the athletic department in an administrative role, utilizing his talents and connections to the NFL.
We also feel that Lane Kiffin will become more personally involved with all aspects of the team, including being more interactive with his players during games. We don't believe he will give up calling the plays. That is probably a sticking point for Kiffin, but we do expect him not to have his face buried in his enormous laminated play sheet for the entire game.
For the Trojan fans hollering at the top of their lungs for Kiffin's head on a platter, take a deep breath and pump the brakes. Your have valid concerns and legitimate reasons to complain, but Lane Kiffin will continue to be the head coach of the USC Trojans, at least for another season.
Ryan Abraham is the publisher of USCFootball.com. You can follow him on twitter @InsideTroy.