This isn't the way that Matt Barkley and the USC Trojans imagined the season would go.
They are coming off their third loss of the season, this time a 62-51 defeat at the hands of the Oregon Ducks in a game that saw a once mighty defense look helpless.
Recall that the Trojans began the year with an incredible amount of hype. They ended last season on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over Oregon at Autzen Stadium and a 50-0 win over the South Division champion UCLA Bruins.
Thus, many felt the hype was warranted, especially after Barkley made his decision to return to the school instead of heading off to the NFL.
Marqise Lee and Robert Woods gave Barkley arguably the best receiving tandem in the country, and the defense would be led by safety T.J. McDonald and a trio of young, athletic linebackers.
The AP's preseason poll tabbed USC as the top team in the country.
But everything began to change on September 15th, when Stanford handed USC its first loss, 21-14. Barkley looked human, and the offense looked average.
When the Trojans left the desert a month later after losing to the Arizona Wildcats, the picture became perfectly clear.
USC not only didn't deserve the preseason hype, but they were proving why having hype before stepping onto the football field means nothing.
Take a look at Michigan, which began the season in everyone's Top 10. They have three losses as of Saturday. Or how about Arkansas, who many felt would challenge both Alabama and LSU in the SEC West? They lost four out of their first five games and are completely irrelevant entering the home stretch.
Of course, some prognosticators are right on the money. Both Alabama and Oregon have lived up to expectations, and they appear destined for a meeting in Miami.
But the same thing happens each fall, yet nobody learns from it. Rarely does the postseason Top 10 look anything like the preseason one, and that's a problem.
It's a problem because certain wins and losses from September are judged by pollsters as impressive when in reality, nobody has an identity until the month of October.
Alabama's victory over Michigan impressed everybody at the time, but that was more about the Wolverines being thought of as an elite team before they had ever proved it. It was about their shiny Top 10 ranking.
Notre Dame was given a lot of credit for beating Michigan State in Week 3, but nobody would call a victory over the Spartans impressive now that they've lost five games.
Preseason hype is based off educated guesses, and it's certainly fun for the fans. Seeing your team ranked in the Top 10 or 15 before the season adds excitement.
But trying to come up with rankings before a team has proven anything on the field is an exercise in futility.
Sure, USC looked like a Top Five team with the talent they had returning. And they've had their moments when they looked like they could hang with anybody. They even challenged Oregon for four quarters.
But ultimately they've become another reminder that preseason hype, while a summer tradition, is pointless.
What matters are the results from games played each Saturday. Unfortunately for USC, they won't receive any hype from that.
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