All those injuries? Just incredible opportunities for the next in line. That struggling offense? Running back Joe McKnight had a breakout game, quarterback Mark Sanchez found a way to win his first start, the O-line is going to get healthy. The disappointing defense? Really bore down in the fourth quarter against mighty Arizona, linebacker Brian Cushing is ready to return, the line is bringing pressure and so close to getting sacks. That disappointing 14th ranking in the debut BCS standings? It’s only the middle of the season and all kinds of stuff can happen, mostly great and fantastic stuff. “This is an exciting time,” Carroll said. “This is really calling on us to do some great stuff in the staff room and in preparations and using our people well and finding ways to make this a successful team. “We’re challenged by it.” Why another tight game and a couple of injuries and he’ll just be giddy. “We’re feeling pumped by the opportunity,” Carroll said. To the outside world, of course, this sounds like a lot of coaching bunk. With the possible exception of LSU’s Les Miles, USC opened the season everybody’s No.1. It had 18 starters back off an 11-2 team. Had a leading Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback John David Booty. Ten prep All-Americans at tailback to choose from. What was considered the best linebacking corps in the country and possibly Carroll’s best defense ever. Throw in USC’s almost unparalleled success the past five years and that Carroll annually recruits the first- or second-rated prep class in the country, and expectations were off anyone’s charts. Then they started the season. They were unimpressive against little Idaho. They supposedly scored a signature win at Nebraska, a team now beaten by 40 on a weekly basis. They beat Washington State soundly, but alarms went off the next week when it was fortunate to escape Washington with a victory. That was followed by “the biggest upset in college football history,” a shocking loss to Stanford that snapped a 35-game home winning streak. So last week the Trojans were supposed to come out snorting fire against 2-5 Arizona and they still needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win at home. “It’s not about style points for us,” Carroll said. “It’s about getting wins right now. “One of the benefits of this time is that a lot of guys get to play and find their level of play.” He’s the Norman Vincent Peale of coaches. But the selling is a little rough now given what people around Heritage Hall are used to and the expectations surrounding this team. Carroll shrugs if off, or at least pretends to. It’s out of his control. It’s the outside world. The Trojans are on a journey of rediscovery and can’t get wrapped up in those disappointed they’re not crushing people like they were Team Transformers. “It’s not that I don’t care about the people,” Carroll said. “I don’t care about the opinion. I can’t do anything about the opinion right now. “They have to wait like we have to wait and see where we are. I think part of the issue is people would like to be eased into understanding more clearly, but we don’t know. So I can’t help anybody on that. If I could I would. So we have to go play.” Naturally, he actually does care. He’s proud of his program and should be. He’s built the most respected college football program in the country, and he raised his own expectations right along with everyone else’s. And right now, everything is a struggle. Every team has injuries (see: UCLA), but USC has seemed to undergo an unusual amount. Starting tailback C.J. Gable (11 yards per carry) is out for the season. Leading rusher Stafon Johnson is out with a sore foot. Booty has a broken finger. The offensive line is a group of strangers. Cushing has been out and now Rey Maualuga has a hip pointer. The defensive backfield plays third stringers. “We’re really not the same guys we were when we started the season,” Carroll said. Still, the Trojans will take a 5-1 record into Notre Dame on Saturday. If nothing is certain for this team, actually neither is anything unattainable. Right now it may be hard to see this underachieving team winning out, but if it does the Rose Bowl still awaits, and a slim chance at the BCS title game. Yet everything is a struggle and figures to be for awhile, if not the rest of the season. Doubters are everywhere now, from frightened boosters to the poll voters. What is up with USC? “I totally understand the questions,” he said. “I really don’t have a way to make everyone feel at ease on this one. “I think right now we’re enduring the season and enduring what happened to us.” This team has almost unexpectedly become Carroll’s greatest challenge, his biggest test. Naturally, he seems very up for it. Last year it wasn’t all blowouts for USC. The Trojans won plenty of close games, and at the end of the season were called Rose Bowl champions. They still had a memorable season. “That’s still out there for us,” he said. “That could still happen. In my mind that’s a likely scenario if things come together, if we have good fortune and our guys hang. “We’re putting it together. Like I said, this is an exciting time.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! He’s excited because, boy, is this a challenge. Really fun stuff. All these problems to overcome. Who knew a team struggling mightily to resemble expectations could create so much joy? It’s the Pete Carroll Spin, and if he wasn’t actually so consistent, it would be laughable.