The 2012 college football season has been one of overwhelming disappointment for the USC Trojans. Despite once ranking as high as second in the nation, the Trojans are nowhere near the national championship picture in early November.
They can thank losses to Stanford, Arizona and Oregon for that.
Fortunately for Trojan fans, there is something they can hang their hat on. With the combination of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods at wide receiver, the team may just have the best pass-catching combo in the nation.
In order to determine whether or not they do, the following slides will answer just that.
Despite local fans' popular belief, Lee and Woods are not the only elite wide receiver tandem in the nation. In fact, there are quite a few wide receiver combinations that could give the USC duo a run for their money.
In West Virginia, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are emerging as two of the best playmakers. At Duke, Jamison Crowder and Conner Vernon have made a name of their own.
At Baylor Bears, Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams have taken the Big 12 by storm. Even Austin Hill and Dan Buckner of Arizona, as well as Kenny Stills and Justin Brown at Oklahoma, enter the conversation.
The lead competitors, however, are DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins of the Clemson Tigers. So how do they all compare?
Since Marqise Lee and Robert Woods came together in 2011, the duo has produced the best numbers of any wide receiver tandem in the nation. As of Thursday, Lee and Woods have combined for 331 receptions, 4,377 yards and 48 touchdowns.
I repeat: 331 receptions, 4,377 yards and 48 touchdowns. In less than two years.
Hopkins and Watkins of Clemson, meanwhile, have 254 receptions for 3,735 yards and 32 touchdowns. Mind you, Watkins has missed three games this season, but the chance that he'd post 77 receptions for 642 yards and 16 touchdowns in those games is quite slim.
For those unwilling to do the math, that's what he would have needed to match the numbers of Lee and Woods.
For the second string of numerical competition, the only players who come close attend West Virginia University.
Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin have combined for 319 receptions, 4,184 yards and 45 touchdowns. Clearly, those numbers are within 12 receptions, 193 yards and three touchdowns of the USC Trojans' mark.
This season, meanwhile, Bailey and Austin have combined for 146 receptions for 1,719 yards and 25 touchdowns. Lee and Woods presently sit at 147 receptions for 1,942 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Bailey and Austin are matching Lee and Woods step by step from a statistical standpoint. Hopkins and Watkins are not too far behind.
So what will be the separating factor?
2012 has been none too kind to Sammy Watkins.
As exciting as they are to watch, Tavon Austin stands at 5'9" and 174 pounds, while Stedman Bailey is just 5'10" and 188 pounds.
Furthermore, if you subtract Bailey's 13-reception, 303-yard and five-touchdown performance against the Baylor Bears, he's at just 48 receptions for 527 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Take away Marqise Lee's 16-reception, 345-yard and two-touchdown performance against the Arizona Wildcats and he's still sitting at 72 receptions for 941 yards and 10 touchdowns. Let the comparison end based off of consistency.
The true comparison here is between the Clemson Tigers and USC Trojans. Despite their statistical disadvantage, the combination of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins make for one of the most dangerous vertical attacks in the nation.
Once again, however, it's a matter of consistency that decides this battle.
Marqise Lee goes out and takes over a game almost every single week. Lee has hauled in at least 10 receptions in six games this season, while Robert Woods has at least five receptions in eight games.
Hopkins and Watkins, meanwhile, have combined for two 10-reception games and combined for three games with less than five catches. Lee and Woods, meanwhile, have just two games under five.
By means of consistency, Woods and Lee emerge victorious again. But is that the end to this debate?
In terms of route running, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better player than Robert Woods. His ability to change direction and expose turned defenders is world class, while his eye control is a primary reason he is so consistent in hauling in the balls he is targeted with.
As for the best open-field receiver, that title goes to Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins.
Many have forgotten just how good Watkins is due to his three-game absence. The truth of the matter is Watkins remains in competition with Marqise Lee for the title of best all-around receiver in the nation.
Why? Because Watkins is virtually impossible to bring down in the open field. You can thank his explosive change of direction and uncanny ability to overpower cornerbacks with his upper-body strength.
So who is the best vertical threat?
With all due respect to Woods and Watkins, who are explosive in every aspect of the game, the battle comes down to DeAndre Hopkins and Marqise Lee. At least until Watkins proves he has returned to his 2011 form.
Hopkins is presently averaging 16.7 yards per reception. This season, he has averaged at least 17.5 yards per catch in six of nine appearances.
Lee, meanwhile, is averaging 14.6 yards per reception and has five games with receptions of at least 55 yards. He also has three receptions of at least 75 yards, while Hopkins' career long rests at 60.
Although Hopkins goes downfield more often, Lee is the most dangerous vertical threat in the nation. As for why, the fact that he can play the role of a possession receiver keeps defenses off balance and his plan of attack unpredictable.
And that's why Marqise Lee is the best wideout in the nation.
Marqise Lee has failed to average at least 16 yards per reception just four times this season. In those games, Lee has a combined 42 receptions for 417 yards and seven touchdowns.
That's 11 receptions for 66 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse, eight receptions for 100 yards against Stanford, and 11 receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns against California.
Most recently, Lee torched the Oregon Ducks for 12 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns. That includes a 75-yard touchdown that saved USC from a 21-3 deficit.
This is not to discount what Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins have done, as they have been phenomenal. The fact of the matter is, Watkins has only rediscovered his stride in the past three weeks.
Until he's proven that he is indeed back to the player he was in 2012, the debate ends there.
Lee and Robert Woods are two dynamic playmakers in the open field that breathe the fundamentals of receiving. Each can burn a defense with their speed, overcome a corner with their physicality or outsmart a zone with their route running.
As long as Watkins continues to be a shell of his old self, USC walks away victorious in the battle for wide receiver supremacy.