USC vs. Stanford: Why the Trojans Could Win the BCS, but Not the SEC
The USC Trojans are a good enough football team to take home the crystal ball, but they're not good enough to raise the cardboard cutout SEC signs on Dec. 1.
As our always opinionated good friend Steve Spurrier pointed out at the 2012 SEC Media Days, it's easier to win the national championship than it is to win the SEC title. See Nick Saban and his Alabama team last season.
And though Spurrier does shoot his mouth off occasionally, he may be onto something with this assessment. So in a hypothetical world where USC plays in the SEC this season, would the Trojans win the league?
Here is why Spurrier was correct in the summer, which, as a result, will prove that a possible national championship team like USC couldn't win this conference.
Must Be Able to Run the Football
Running the football is essential in the SEC.
Furthermore, lining up behind your big, physical offensive line and pounding the football is a recipe for success in this league.
But in the words of Dusty Rhodes told through the flamboyant mouth of Stone Cold Steve Austin, you can imagine USC fans saying, "No, baby, that's for somebody else."
You're right, that's for teams like LSU and Alabama, who both jumped USC in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll this past weekend.
As fantastic as Matt Barkley and his receivers are, you have to be able to run the football successfully in this conference, and rushing for 81 yards against Hawaii isn't going to impress anybody. Judging from USC's 258 rushing yards against Syracuse in Week 2, this offense is capable of running it, but it's far from deadly.
Defense Is Key
Sure, you have to be able to run the football, but more importantly, you have to be able to stop it.
LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgia and Florida are among the top rushing teams in the league so far, and it's no surprise that they're all 2-0.
But what is making each of these teams successful so far in 2012? It's undoubtedly their defensive impact on every game.
All five of these schools have complete defenses, and though USC has studs like Dion Bailey, Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald, the Trojans are far from complete.
The Trojans' front four might have trouble stopping the vicious rushing games in the SEC, especially when there's offensive lines like LSU and Alabama present.
Could They Keep Barkley Healthy?
There's a big difference between Pac-12 defenses and SEC defenses.
The most notable difference is the athletes on the defensive line. Guys like Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, John Jenkins, Corey Lemonier, Jesse Williams and Jadeveon Clowney are absolute monsters that are a handful for any offensive lineman in the country.
So could USC's offensive line keep these monsters from getting to Barkley without Matt Kalil still in the lineup? Most likely not.
Don't get it twisted—this offense would put points on the board and Barkley would hit Robert Woods and Marqise Lee for touchdown strikes against any of these defenses, but at the same time, Barkley would take some shots.
Would the physical grind of being dumped on your back throughout the game place Barkley on the bench?
Too Many Variables
In the end, this race for the SEC championship is unpredictable.
In 2010, who saw Auburn winning it all? And as for last year, who would have guessed that LSU would win the 2011 SEC Championship but lose the 2012 BCS National Championship to Alabama?
In 2012, who's to say a team like Tennessee doesn't surprise everybody and win it all? The Vols have a great quarterback, speed on the outside and an opportunistic defense. Makes you want to say "who dat?" like it's 2009.
And a dark horse winning the SEC would be more fitting this year than any. After all, the SEC East is far more competitive than it has been in the past couple of seasons.
As you play one great team after another on a weekly basis, it can wear down your team physically and mentally, and that's when the upsets begin to occur. The SEC truly is a gauntlet.
No more two-game seasons.
Fans always complain about the SEC's non-conference schedule, but they fail to look at the conference schedule. Take LSU for instance.
The Tigers scheduled North Texas, Washington, Idaho and Towson this season, and everyone would agree that those games are cupcakes, with maybe an exception for Washington. Now, look at their conference schedule.
LSU plays at Auburn, at Texas A&M, at Florida and at Arkansas, while playing South Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State at home. That's like getting thrown into a gauntlet against a murderer's row and being expected to claw your way out alive. Before you begin to roll your eyes, maybe Ole Miss and Auburn aren't exactly up to par this season, but the others are.
It's a lot different than just playing a great Oregon team twice. Side note: The verdict is still out on UCLA and Arizona.
Barkley's Willingness to Throw Jump Balls
Matt Barkley relies on his receivers to make plays often. Sometimes too often.
Because Barkley has Lee and Woods, two of the best wide receivers in the nation, on his team to throw to, he throws caution to the wind from time to time.
Barkley will sometimes launch jump balls in their direction, and if you do that in the SEC, you're going to pay for it.
Just in case you forgot, Jonathan Banks, Dee Milliner, Tharold Simon, Bacarri Rambo, Eric Reid, E.J. Gaines and Trey Wilson roam around this league, so Barkley would have to place the ball perfectly every time.
If he didn't, well, you know the drill.
This has happened before.
As recent as one season ago, the Alabama Crimson Tide failed to win their own conference and ended up winning the BCS National Championship, so this assumption that USC could win the national title but not the SEC isn't all that delusional.
LSU went from being named one of the best teams of all time to SEC champions at best in a matter of a 60-minute football game.
On the other side, Saban and his Crimson Tide were labeled national champions but were unable to call themselves champions of their own league.
So USC may be good enough to win the 2013 BCS National Championship in Miami, but the Trojans aren't complete enough to win the 2012 SEC Championship in Atlanta.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!