This offseason, the Raiders have seen some tremendous improvements in several areas including players, coaching staff, and front office discipline and decision making. Coincidentally, the team the Raiders just finished the preseason with, the Seattle Seahawks, have a new coach Pete Carroll, the former USC Trojans mastermind, who "handed the ball off" to former Raiders' Head Coach Lane Kiffin. Oh what tangled webs Kiffin has woven over the past few years. From the front man in Oakland to Tennessee and then back to sunny California to take over the leadership position right back where he started in the first place. During the time that Kiffin was searching the globe for his rightful place on earth, the Raiders have actually managed to keep the same head coach, Kiffin's replacement and eventual successor, Tom Cable.
With USC starting a new era with Lane Kiffin and the Raiders becoming the kind of team that Cable envisioned at the end of the 2008 season, the question I have is who is more likely to make it to nine wins this season, the Trojans or the Raiders?
For years, USC remained the cream of the crop in upper echelon college football. High School football's finest players within probably a five-state area wanted to play for the Trojans and everyone who would play against the team was aiming to send a message to the rest of the college world by defeating the Trojans.
During that same period of time, the Raiders were busy being one of the worst franchises in the NFL, setting a record for the most consecutive 11-loss seasons in a row and becoming the butt of the joke for all sports analysts.
But, yesterday, the NFL released their team-by-team breakdowns and predictions for all 32 NFL teams. While they failed at bringing an in-depth report on the Raiders to the forefront, one thing that should be taken into consideration are the Win/Loss predictions of several different NFL.com and NFL Network personalities. Their predictions are as follows:
- Bucky Brooks: 8-8 second in AFC West
- Vic Carucci: 10-6 second in AFC West
- Pat Kirwan: 8-8 second in AFC West
- Jason La Canfora: 9-7 second in AFC West
- Michael Lombardi: 7-9 third in AFC West
- Steve Wyche: 8-8 second in the AFC West
Ironically, former Raiders' executive, Michael Lombardi, is the only person who believes the Raiders are the third best team in the division. Even in spite of Lombardi being the low on the totem pole, not a single one of these guys thinks the Raiders will lose even 10 or more games this year, let alone 11. They are predicting that this is the year the Raiders get the train back on the tracks and start making their way towards being a playoff contender.
USC, on the other hand, just got handed sanctions by the NCAA for the Reggie Bush/OJ Mayo scandal. Evidently, boosters were contributing to these two college player's pocketbooks, which is a big no-no in the world of college sports. The NCAA has banned USC from postseason play fortwo years. They're taking away their BCS Championship win in January of 2005 against Oklahoma and all 12 regular season wins that next season. They'll also lose 10 scholarships for the next three seasons and be on probation for four years. The violations are for a lack of institutional control. These were the stiffest penalties given to any university since the NCAA issued the "death penalty" to the Southern Methodist football program in 1986, shutting it down for two years. Of course Pete Carroll dodged the bullet by catching the first train out of town to become the Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks, which actually goes back to where our story today started.
One team, some say, is on the rise and it appears the other is about to go over the waterfalls and spiral downward into the depths. Is this Lane Kiffin's karma catching up to him, or is it simply going to remain that the Raiders are bottom feeders and USC crawls out of this mess virtually unscathed?
That all remains to be seen; while the Raiders have yet to start their regular season schedule, which will open next Sunday (ironically enough in Tennessee), the Trojans already have their first win under their belt, a 49-36 victory over Hawaii, which left some Trojans fans worried about Monte Kiffin's cover 2 defense against some of the pass heavy teams USC will see on their schedule like the Arizona Wildcats. If teams like the Wildcats pose a threat to the USC win-loss column then what will happen when they play teams that are actually good like Cal, Oregon, Notre Dame, and rival UCLA?
For the moment, the Raiders division appears to be an open door as far as the possibilities of a new division champion taking the reins from the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers will be without their veteran left tackle Marcus McNeal and possibly their best wide receiver, Vincent Jackson. They also have a serious issue should something happen to their starting QB, a problem that probably would not plague the Oakland Raiders this year with Bruce Gradkowski having proven he can handle a starting gig in the NFL while the starter ahead of him heals up.
You are the judge, Raider Nation, is one team on the ups and one team on the outs? Who is more likely to hit the nine wins mark this year, the Oakland Raiders or the USC Trojans? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section.
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