USC’s season isn’t going as planned. The Trojans were not supposed to struggle versus Syracuse. They were not supposed to lose a series-record fourth game in a row to the Stanford Cardinal.
However, to count the Trojans out at this point in the season would be a grave error. Traditionally, the Trojans have come on stronger as the season has advanced. One only has to look to the 2011 season—by Week 7, no one in the country was playing as good or as dynamically as the Trojans.
And that was not the first time a Trojan team came on strong in the second half of the season to finish at or near the top of the polls. In fact, there have been teams in recent years—both at USC and other schools—who, despite an early loss, have gone on to prove they were the best team in the country (Alabama last season, LSU in 2003 and 2007, Florida in 2006 and 2008).
This one-loss Trojan team is the most dangerous team in the nation for a number of reasons. World-class receivers, elite running backs, a down-but-not-out Heisman candidate quarterback. Why would anyone say the Trojans are done?
Nothing in college football is over until the last conference game is played and the championship games and bowl schedules are set.
And if USC (and recent Alabama, LSU and Florida BCS winning teams) is known for one thing, it’s coming on strong in the second half of the season.
Had USC lost to California, it would have been bye-bye Rose Bowl (not to mention any consideration for the BCS Title game) and hello Holiday Bowl. Not that San Diego isn’t lovely over the winter holidays, but it isn’t the Miami trip the Trojans and their fan base had been planning.
The last time USC lost to Cal, in triple overtime by a field goal, at Cal in 2003, the Trojans won out and were awarded the AP National title.
But let’s be honest, that was a long time ago, under a different coach. Can this year’s USC team pull off a similar feat? And if so, how?
First off, the Trojans need to shut out the external noise. Forget the media, forget the hype, focus on the anger brewing over the Stanford loss, over the ruined perfect season.
It is impossible to take a bunch of college-aged young men and tell them to ignore the hype. But now that’s over. They lost. They are fallible. Now, the Trojans have something to prove, which they can by taking care of each game week by week.
The schedule isn’t easy. After a week off, USC flies to Salt Lake City to take on the Utes, a sure test for the faltering Trojan offense. The Utah front seven is every bit as solid and tough as the Stanford defense that dismantled USC’s elite offense.
If senior center Khaled Holmes is healthy, no problem. If he’s not, the Trojan O-Line needs to stand up and take care of business. Fortunately, Utah’s own O-Line is suspect, so the USC D shouldn’t have any problem keeping the Utes from scoring.
Then, the Trojans are off to Seattle to face Steve Sarkisian’s Huskies before heading home to take on the woeful Colorado in the Coliseum. A date with Arizona looms before the showdown against Oregon on November 3.
Which team will give the Trojans the toughest time?
If USC can keep its loss to just one and Stanford wins out, suddenly, that one early-in-the-season loss to a ranked team doesn’t look so bad. Either way, USC will face either Oregon or Stanford twice when it meets the North Division’s representative in the Pac-12 title game. Assuming, of course, USC beats ASU, UCLA and Notre Dame.
None of this is news. But think about how the Trojans were playing last year once November rolled around. Not a single one of us would have placed our money anywhere but on USC, and it had nothing to play for since it was not bowl-eligible.
Now that it's got that one loss under its helmets, they are in a similar position. The BCS title game is seemingly out of reach. This is exactly the position in which USC is the most dangerous. This group of players knows what it is like to play spoiler to other teams. It is a role they are comfortable in.
It’s not just USC that needs to win out, the Trojans also need Stanford to win out and rise in the polls.
USC needs to beat Oregon and then hope that Stanford beats Oregon two weeks later, earning the Trojans both a victory over a highly-ranked team late in the season and a rematch versus Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. I’d bet my rent money on USC absolutely obliterating Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. It had a bad taste in its mouth from that loss from the past four games against the Cardinal.
Consider the 2011 season. Alabama lost at home to LSU in the regular season. The Tide didn’t even earn a spot in their conference championship yet they were given the nod to play for the BCS title. And in that rematch, it was Alabama that went home with the crystal football.
Let’s say USC wins out, ascends in the polls due to a number of quality wins and is ranked in the top three at the end of the season with Alabama and LSU.
Do you really think the BCS will allow another all-SEC West Title game? There’s no way that would happen.
So for all those that say USC doesn’t control its own destiny anymore, you’re wrong. The Trojans most certainly do. They need to stay healthy, stay focused, keep winning and show the country what it means to be a Trojan.
Faithful. Scholarly. Skillful. Courageous. Ambitious.
"Here are provided seats of meditative joy, where shall rise again the destined reign of Troy." - Virgil
I actually cannot wait to see it all unfold, see the Trojans run the gauntlet and emerge victorious.