A midseason coaching change has breathed new life into Southern California's season, with interim head coach Ed Orgeron leading the Trojans to a 4-1 record since taking over for Lane Kiffin to help the program climb back into contention in the Pac-12 South Race.
Orgeron's high-energy style has rallied the Trojans (7-3, 4-2) as they prepare for a huge home game against No. 5 Stanford (8-1, 6-1) Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum. USC football still has many issues to resolve on the field, but there's little question Orgeron will have the band as fired up as his team. And where you have the Spirit of Troy, another of USC's enduring traditions is certain to be nearby.
Since 1961, a noble white horse named Traveler, mounted by a Trojan warrior wearing full battle gear, has pranced along the USC sidelines. Traveler became part of USC tradition when school officials witnessed a man named Richard Saukko riding a white horse at the 1961 Rose Bowl parade. They convinced him to ride his horse, Traveler, at USC's opener against Georgia Tech the next fall, and since then seven different white horses have have held the honor of serving as Traveler.
Being LA, there's a touch of Hollywood, of course. Saukko's original uniform was the same costume worn by Charlton Heston in the classic 1959 movie, Ben Hur. That ultimately proved a bit cumbersome, so in 1962 Saukko made his own outfit that still is worn by the Trojan warrior -- aka Tommy Trojan -- atop Traveler today. Traveler has appeared in movies, marched in parades and made appearances for USC across the nation. But nowhere is he more at home than on the sidelines of the LA Coliseum, inspiring cheers and chills to the soundtrack of epic USC fight songs.
A victory over Stanford would certainly be a boost to USC's current football fortunes as the Trojans try to recapture the aura that made them the West Coast's dominant football program. Only eight FBS programs have won more games than the Men of Troy. USC has it all: national championships, Heisman Trophies, big-time rivalries, stirring fight songs, a colorful band, glamorous cheerleaders and celebrity fans.
USC also is home to one of college football's most recognizable mascots, one of the great traditions in college football.