Tal Volk | Daily TrojanHolding it together · Head coach Clay Helton’s season turned around after he named redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold the starter in Week 4. This week, the Trojans face No. 4 Washington.The last time USC faced Washington, it was the final game before all hell broke loose and a new era of the football program emerged, for better or for worse.You probably recall it — the No. 17 Trojans entering as double-digit favorites against the unranked Huskies at the Coliseum on a Thursday night in October. You remember it being utterly depressing — former quarterback Cody Kessler throwing two interceptions, the Huskies taking the lead on a trick play and then closing out a 17-12 win. But that was hardly the story.It was the tweet-storm that emerged in the weekend that followed: then-head coach Steve Sarkisian showing up to practice inebriated, revelations that he was drunk on the sidelines two weeks prior against Arizona State, the indefinite leave of absence followed quickly by the firing and the public humiliation of USC somehow topping itself when it comes to football controversies.And from all this emerged a forced changing of the guard and the emergence of Clay Helton, a man who has been tabbed with bringing USC back to its glory days.Now, a year removed from the forgettable unfortunate series of events, the Trojans have another date with the Huskies, and it could mark another shift for USC to pull off a road upset against a team seemingly destined for the College Football Playoff.A win over fourth-ranked Washington would prove so many things. For one, it would validate the five-game win streak the Trojans are currently on as a sign of an improving team rather than the result of a favorable schedule. Since losing to Utah on Sept. 23, USC has beaten Arizona State, Colorado, Cal and Oregon at home and Arizona on the road. Of those teams, Colorado is probably the only quality opponent in what has been a very strange season for the Pac-12.The Washington game is USC’s first chance to redeem themselves on the national spotlight since the season-opening debacle against Alabama. With the game being broadcast on FOX, a 4:30 p.m. PST kickoff and one of just two matchups between Top 25 teams, the game will receive a lot of eyeballs from fans wondering whether the Huskies can maintain their top-four spot or if USC is really on the rise again.If they are, then beating this Washington team on Saturday would send a statement, and look no further than the respective sidelines as to why. In hindsight, it’s a given that USC should have hired Chris Petersen — now the head coach of the Huskies — instead of Sarkisian in 2013 to replace Lane Kiffin. Petersen was an up-and-coming, smart football mind who had built a perennial contender at Boise State and was willing to jump ship to a bigger program. But an interview with then-Athletic Director Pat Haden wound up being akin to a “bad date,” according to ESPN. Instead, Haden tapped Sarkisian — the Huskies coach at the time — and the domino effect resulted in Peterson replacing Sarkisian at Washington.Since then, the Sarkisian debacle has kept USC stagnant, while Petersen has built a monster at Washington that is finally rearing its head in his third season. His team is 9-0 and has its best chance to win its first national championship since 1991. He has a Heisman-contending quarterback in Jake Browning who is just a sophomore. He has the best scoring offense and best scoring defense in the Pac-12, which does not seem fair. He has a speedy wide receiver in John Ross and a shutdown corner in Kevin King, both of whom are significant because they were part of Sarkisian’s recruiting at Washington.I’m sure USC would love to forget about Sarkisian, but his fingerprints are all over this game. He recruited players who have helped turn the Huskies program around and could cause fits on Saturday for USC, the same program that Sarkisian royally embarrassed in his short tenure.But the irony here goes three or four levels deep. Petersen, the coach that USC could have had instead of Sarkisian, has constructed a balanced system that the Trojans are trying to emulate.“Two really similar teams,” Helton said about the Huskies this week. “We look at their offense to be able to look at what they’re doing against other defenses because formationally, personnel, we’re so similar.”The difference, though, is that USC is more like Washington-light, ranked middle-of-the pack in the Pac-12 in both total offense and defense while the Huskies lead in both categories. For the Trojans to beat the Huskies, redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold will have to play the best game of his young career, and the Trojans will have to go much further than simply duplicating their effort during this five-game win streak.If they do, then not only will the Trojans have pulled off a significant upset, but they also would have beaten a program they look up to with a coach that should be on their sideline and players who were recruited by the calamity of a coach they hired instead. And Helton, the benefactor of all of the above, would have his first signature win and redeem USC from the failures of years’ past. How’s that for the start of a new era? Eric He is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.