Travis Dye has been around football long enough to see the signs: The emotional road win in Corvallis. The less-than-stellar week of practice that followed. The sloppy start against Arizona State. Sure, the ship was eventually righted in a 42-25 win, USC’s fifth straight to start the season. But the effort was enough to remind the fifth-year senior running back how hard it is to keep winning — and how quickly a letdown could come.
He passed along that message after the Arizona State game on Saturday.
“We need to put our main focus on the little stuff and just realizing that winning does not come easy. It’s not something that you just get used to,” Dye said. “You have to come in, week in, week out with everything you have. Because you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. That’s just how it is. When you go to USC with all this hype around you, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
The next two weeks, in that regard, represent the truest test of the Trojans’ mettle — not to mention their College Football Playoff semifinal bonafides — this season. Washington State, at 4-1, boasts one of the better defenses in the conference, while Utah was the preseason Pac-12 title favorite. How USC fares against both could very well determine the direction of its season.
USC hasn’t opened a season 6-0 since 2006, the year after the Trojans lost in the national title game to Texas. Unlike that team, which was coming off an unparalleled stretch of success, this one is still very much learning how to win.
“It’s a daily fight. I mean, it is,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “I use ‘fight’ because that’s just the only way you get better. You’ve got to strain. You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. It’s a process to understand that, right? There’s some of it you can learn before, and we try to pack as much of that in as we possibly can. There’s some of it that’s not going to take hold until you actually get in some of these situations as a team and individually.”
Those situations are coming soon enough.
Here are three things to watch for when USC faces Washington State on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. PDT (Fox; Fox Sports app):