Do Revitalized USC Trojans Deserve a Top 25 Ranking?

Kyle KensingContributor INovember 13, 2013

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans passes the ball during the third quarter of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on November 1, 2013 in Corvallis, Oregon. USC won the game 31-14. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Just beyond the periphery of the Top 25 in the BCS rankings, Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls, USC is a week away from returning to a place that looked unreachable just a few short weeks ago.  

An offensively anemic and penalty-plagued loss at Notre Dame on Oct. 19 dropped the Trojans to 4-3. 

USC isn't deserving of a Top-25 ranking just yet. The Notre Dame loss is increasingly unsightly, and Washington State's Week 2 win in the Coliseum may have been the Cougars' apex for 2013. Arizona State, the third team to knock off the Trojans, is barely ranked at No. 22. 

However, a victory Saturday would not only snap Stanford's four-game win streak in its in-state series with USC. It would also propel the Trojans into the next set of rankings. 

Since interim head coach Ed Orgeron assumed the reins of the USC football program, the Trojans have looked much more like the Pac-12 contenders of which most are accustomed to seeing. 

"They're healthy now, and they're dangerous," said Stanford head coach David Shaw on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches call. 

The Trojans' health concerns are not completely remedied. Linebacker Morgan Breslin is sidelined for the rest of the year, as is running back Justin Davis. 

However, running back Silas Redd and tight end Xavier Grimble returning to the lineup certainly helps. There are also two rather significant components to the passing game at 100 percent that catch Shaw's attention.  

 "When [junior wide receiver] Marqise Lee's banged up and so is [sophomore wide receiver] Nelson Agholor; you take the top two fastest guys off of any team, and you're not going to have the same production," Shaw said. "Not to mention they were going back and forth at quarterback."

Among the most notable differences for USC now compared to early in the season when it held a Top-25 ranking it hadn't earned is a more comfortable Cody Kessler behind center. His numbers in the last five weeks aren't eye-popping but solidly consistent. 

For a team built on defense and a power running game, Kessler has grown into a perfect complement. His ability to unleash haymaker vis a vis the long ball, like he did to open the first and second halves at Oregon State, has given the Trojans offense a previously missing dynamic. 

Kessler's target on the first? Lee. 

Targeted for the second? Agholor. 

The result is a much more explosive team than that which struggled in August and September against Hawaii, Washington State and Utah State. 

Paired against the best defense it will see this season, the revitalized USC offense has an opportunity Saturday to make a major statement. And Top 25 voters will surely be watching.