USC really needed that win over No. 4 Oregon last weekend.
Alas, the Trojans didn't get it, and here they are: ranked 19th in the BCS standings and coming off two consecutive losses with three games left to play.
Things aren't exactly looking up for the Trojans, which is a disappointment, given where they stood a month or two ago. Two games into the season, they looked like one of the best teams in the nation—but that goes to show you that you shouldn't judge a team by two early-season wins over Hawaii and Syracuse.
Since then, USC has been mediocre, and that's being kind. The best win they have in conference play came over a team that is 3-3 in the Pac-12. They suffered losses to No. 21 Stanford and No. 4 Oregon, and they dropped another inexplicable game at the hands of Arizona a couple of weeks ago.
Before that loss to Arizona, things still looked good for the Trojans. Now, they're going to need to be at their absolute best over the next two weeks to get into a decent bowl game.
USC has three games remaining: versus Arizona State on Saturday, at No. 18 UCLA on Nov. 17 and versus No. 4 Notre Dame on Nov. 24. Needless to say, they need to win all three of them in order to surge up the rankings by season's end, and they have a tremendous opportunity with that season finale against the Fighting Irish.
But despite the fact that a Top Five team looms on the horizon, USC's most critical matchups will happen over the course of the next two weeks.
There's no question that the Trojans should be able to take down the Sun Devils at home this weekend: ASU is 3-3 in conference play and 5-4 overall, and the Trojans are normally good at home (unless they're playing Oregon). It's after that game that things get tricky.
USC doesn't have to travel far to take on the Bruins, but the historic animosity between these two schools make this matchup a tough road game for the Trojans. Then there's the fact that the Bruins are ranked 18th in the BCS.
USC needs that win in order to take over first place in the Pac-12 standings, assuming the Bruins don't lose before then (they face 2-7 Washington State this weekend). Without a win over UCLA, the Trojans have no chance at a berth to the Pac-12 championship; with a win, hope will still be very much alive.
Will USC end up in the Pac-12 championship?
A victory over Notre Dame won't do anything for the Trojans in terms of the conference standings, obviously, but it could give them a substantial boost in the BCS rankings (assuming ND doesn't lose before that Nov. 24 matchup). Historically, the Trojans have been very tough on the Irish, and the fact that this is a home game for them is a huge boon. If they can knock off an unbeaten team in their regular-season finale, they will have a lot to gain.
UCLA has three conference games remaining and has a chance to finish at 7-2 in conference play. The Trojans have two conference games left, and at best, they could finish at 6-3. If USC beats UCLA and both teams finish at 6-3, USC will win the tiebreaker.
But without that win over UCLA the week before, it won't matter all that much. A Pac-12 championship is the ultimate goal here, and unless UCLA drops another conference game, the only way for USC to get an opportunity to play in it is by beating Arizona State and beating the Bruins.
It's clear what they have to do.
This year's USC team has been unable to prove that it can contend with the best teams in the nation, and a berth to the conference championship will likely afford them the opportunity to get another crack at Oregon. A win (probably over Oregon) in the conference championship means a BCS bowl.
All hope is not lost. The Trojans know what they have to do. The pressure is on, but they still have a chance at redeeming this season.