Let's go back to the summer of 2010 -- two years ago. Cited for a lack of institutional control, USC was slapped with four years' probation -- the bowl ban, the scholarship reductions -- the harshest penalties since SMU in the 1980s. Meanwhile the other half of the sanctions related to vacating. USC was instructed by the NCAA to vacate 14 wins spanning from December 2004 through the 2005 season. It was also eventually stripped of its 2004 BCS national championship, the result of a 55-19 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Not to mention it was forced to dissociate from Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush, who had been retroactively ruled ineligible for accepting improper benefits. In short, it was an attempt by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions to permanently erase history. That was the plan. That was why white-out was taken by the buckets to the record books.
But now, in 2012, history is helping the Trojans. Currently, the team's recruiting class for 2013 is ranked No. 9 nationally by Yahoo! Sports' Rivals.com in spite of the fact that it's capped at 18 with 15 regular signees and three early enrollees. For now, the restrictions haven't served as much of a deterrent. Over the last week, top-ranked safety Su'a Cravens, along with four-star wide receiver Steve Mitchell of Mission Hills, Calif., committed to USC, giving Lane Kiffin and Co. a total of nine commits -- eight in the Rivals100.
"For USC to prosper -- not simply survive -- Kiffin will need to be shrewd in managing his scholarships," wrote Steve Megargee, a Rivals.com recruiting analyst, last January for SI.com. "He'll also need to withstand a barrage of negative press from opposing recruiters."
Kiffin has been shrewd, sure. So has his stuff. But they also have history to thank.
On several occasions over the last year, Kiffin has pointed out that coping with the sanctions in this way stems from the strength of the USC brand, a testament to the program as a whole, which cues clichéd remarks such as "USC is still USC." It's not often people say this, but really, Kiffin's onto something here. High school seniors, the guys like Cravens and Mitchell, were in the third and fourth grade when USC notched consecutive national championships in 2003 and 2004. They remember Bush. They remember the speed. They remember the 513 all-purpose yards. They grew up with USC atop the college football world.
People often wax poetic about programs such as Notre Dame, for Rockne, for the "Four Horsemen," for Johnny Lujack. But heck, that's before we had interstate highways. That hardly matters for average 17 year olds. Their memories remain pretty short. What matters is, say, 2002, 2003 or 2004. Which is what makes the current predicament slightly amusing.
USC was supposed to erase the memory of Bush. They shipped his Heisman Trophy east out of the Heritage Hall lobby. His jersey no longer hangs from the peristyle end of the Coliseum. Rarely, is he mentioned publicly. He has yet to return to campus since the infamous summer of 2010. But his memory, oddly enough, is helping launch the next era of 'SC football under Kiffin's watch, and especially on the recruiting trail After all: Reggie Bush is ingrained into the mind of every teenager in Southern California.
It remains, no doubt, increasingly difficult to wipe away those memories, those lasting images.
The former Heisman winner has been vilified among a number of fans for directly causing -- whether fair or unfair -- the NCAA-levied sanctions. Yet if recent weeks serve as any indication, Bush, along with the era of 'SC football under Pete Carroll, is helping piece things back together.
Some things are tough to forget.
Follow Joey on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.