Kevin Sumlin. Chris Petersen. James Franklin.
Those were the names most often mentioned as candidates to be the next coach at Southern California — but none of them is.
Trojans athletic director Pat Haden hired Steve Sarkisian away from Washington on Monday and many USC fans are feeling as if they've been given a consolation prize. Not quite the home-run hire they were expecting. And Huskies fans didn't seem too broken up by Sark's departure.
Maybe it's because Sarkisian in many ways is so similar to the coach Haden fired in September, five games into this season.
Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin rapidly climbed the coaching ladder together as assistants under Pete Carroll during USC's not-so-distant glory days. They were offensive whiz kids and buddies who both became head coaches by the time they reached their mid-30s.
As good as the Carroll days were at USC, it's fair to wonder if the Trojans need to move on. And if Haden wanted a coach who would provide a link to the past, couldn't he have just kept Ed Orgeron? USC players and plenty of Trojans fans pledged support for the endearing Coach O during his eight-game stint as interim coach.
Instead, Haden brought in Sarkisian, who was 34-29 in five seasons with Washington. This just completed regular season is the first in which Sarkisian has led his team to more than seven wins. After a string of three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies are 8-4 heading into the bowl season. It was not exactly the breakthrough that Washington fans had hoped would accompany the opening of newly renovated Husky Stadium at a cost $280 million.
But a closer look at the resume suggests Sarkisian is being undervalued.
Sarkisian took over a Washington program that was below rock bottom. The Huskies were 0-12 in 2008, the worst of five straight losing seasons. While the Huskies were descending, Oregon was blossoming into one of the elite programs in college football. Chip Kelly was promoted to Ducks head coach the same year Sark was hired by the Huskies. That same year was Jim Harbaugh's third with at Stanford. The Cardinal were on the cusp of becoming a powerhouse.
Sarkisian has been something of a victim of his own early success. Washington went 5-7 in his first season with a memorable upset of USC and Carroll.
The Huskies were 7-5 in Year 2 and by Year 3 they were being pegged as a possible breakout team and Sarkisian as a fast-rising star. Then reality caught up to the Huskies and the rebuild got stuck in neutral.
But make no mistake the talent level of both the roster and the coaching staff has steadily gone up during Sarkisian's time in Seattle.
The Huskies this season were a very good team stuck in an excellent conference, the best Pac-12 in recent memory.
In Sarkisian, USC gets a coach that has combined the pro-style offense that has always been the Trojans' calling card with the fast-pace approach that has become a Pac-12 signature. The native of Los Angeles knows the territory, having already won a fair share of recruiting battles up and down the West Coast.
And while Sarkisian and Kiffin are friends, Sark is no Lane. Where Kiffin could come across as aloof and arrogant, Sarkisian has a lot of laidback California dude in him.
Simply put, at 39 years old Sarkisian seems to be getting better at his job. We'll see if that's enough to make USC a champion again, and to make Trojans fans stop longing for Sumlin, Petersen and Franklin.
Postseason projections are based mostly on favorites winning out during championship weekend. (x-indicates team that has already accepted an invite.)
New Mexico Bowl at Albuquerque
Oregon State vs. Colorado State
Las Vegas Bowl
Fresno State vs. USC
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Boise, Idaho
Buffalo vs. UNLV
New Orleans Bowl
Tulane vs. x-Louisiana-Lafayette
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at St. Petersburg, Fla.
East Carolina vs. Ohio
Middle Tennessee vs. San Diego State
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Detroit
Bowling Green vs. Syracuse
Poinsettia Bowl at San Diego
Notre Dame vs. Boise State
Military Bowl at Annapolis, Md.
Marshall vs. Maryland
Texas Bowl at Houston
Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
Fight Hunger Bowl At San Francisco
x-BYU vs. Washington
Pinstripe Bowl at New York
Cincinnati vs. Pitt
Belk Bowl at Charlotte, N.C.
Houston vs. North Carolina
Russell Athletic Bowl at Orlando, Fla.
Miami vs. Louisville
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Tempe, Ariz.
Nebraska vs. Texas
Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth, Texas
Utah State vs. x-Navy
Music City Bowl at Nashville, Tenn.
Georgia vs. Boston College
Alamo Bowl at San Antonio
Oregon vs. Oklahoma
Holiday Bowl at San Diego
Kansas State vs. Stanford
AdvoCare V100 Bowl at Shreveport, La.
Georgia Tech vs. Washington State
Sun Bowl at El Paso, Texas
Virginia Tech vs. UCLA
Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Tenn.
Marshall vs. Mississippi
Chick-fil-A Bowl at Atlanta
Duke vs. Texas A&M
Heart of Dallas Bowl at Dallas
Arizona vs. Rice
Gator Bowl at Jacksonville, Fla.
Michigan vs. Vanderbilt
Capital One Bowl at Orlando, Fla.
Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Outback Bowl at Tampa, Fla.
Iowa vs. Missouri
Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas
Baylor vs. LSU
BBVA Compass Bowl at Birmingham, Ala.
Mississippi State vs. Rutgers
GoDaddy.com Bowl at Mobile, Ala.
x-Arkansas State vs. Ball State
Rose Bowl at Pasadena, Calif.
Arizona State vs. Michigan State
Fiesta Bowl at Glendale, Ariz.
Oklahoma State vs. Northern Illinois
Sugar Bowl at New Orleans
Auburn vs. UCF
Orange Bowl at Miami
Alabama vs. Clemson
BCS National Championship at Pasadena, Calif.
Florida State vs. Ohio State
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP