Welcome to the hype machine that is Southern Cal football, 2012. Ranked in the top three in the nation in most preseason publications, they will likely be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 when the AP rankings come out as well.
That's great for the school, players, coaches and especially the fans. So, why should I throw a bucket of cold water on this white-hot success story? Well, mainly because water is a fix for a mirage and that is exactly what is happening here very near the Mojave desert in Southern California.
No doubt that this is a good football team. The Trojans' senior quarterback is a likely first-round pick and Heisman candidate. In addition, they have a schedule that a Notre Dame, Michigan or Florida would die for.
Pat Haden has done an excellent job since being hired. He is keeping Lane Kiffin and his staff out of the NCAA doghouse. A weaker A.D. (like Mike Hamilton in Tennessee) would likely have had immediate issues there.
In his one year in Knoxville, Kiffin and staff committed nine NCAA recruiting violations. I applaud Haden's results, Kiffin's recruiting machine is working well, the NCAA has no complaints and the big-name kids are lining up for the Trojans.
Also an issue in Kiffin's past that Haden has corrected is succeeding in muzzling his head coach's mouth, thus eliminating unnecessary fires with other teams and coaches.
In spite of all that, Kiffin and company are good football coaches. Though his record hasn't yet shown it, I believe he is capable of maintaining a high quality, high profile program.
Even so, a top-three ranking going into the season doesn't seem earned by USC. There are still many issues that must be overcome before this team finds its way into the next national championship game.
For one thing, there will be that extra conference championship game. Where, very likely, they will have to beat someone (say Oregon) for the second time in a season. This is something that has derailed a SEC team's chance to play for a national title five times since 1994 (Alabama '94 and '08, Tennessee '01, LSU '05, Florida '09).
Another possible issue is depth at running back. Their No. 1 guy Curtis McNeal looks good, but they are a little thin on experience after that. Oh, there are plenty of young guns, but will they drop the ball too much?
Also, their defensive line is losing a first-team Pac 12 defensive end, their starting nose tackle and a 10-game starter at defensive tackle. Again, there is talent coming up, but rebuilding a line needs time to mesh.
Again, I think this is a very good football team. In my opinion, the Trojans are getting ranked so high because they won 10 last year and voters think that Stanford and Utah will be much weaker, making a 9-0 start before getting Oregon at home more likely. If they make it to 9-0 before Oregon, the voters and writers look like football geniuses for ranking them so high.
My take is they probably saved themselves another loss or two last year by not playing in the championship game or a bowl. So, last year's record is a little deceiving.
I believe they will play Oregon with at least one loss and will likely be 9-3 at Pac-12 championship time. There is a small chance they don't even qualify to play in that game. Even if they do, this is not the year for USC to make it to the BCS Championship Game.