Are Oregon, Stanford and UCLA really the new banner bearers for the Pac-12? Or, are they just taking turns filling the role while the true giant—mighty USC—slumbers, preparing for another romp across college football?
Though USC hasn’t finished a season ranked in the AP Top Five since 2008, it’s still the most powerful program in the Pac-12 and the team most likely to produce a string of national championships.
This doesn’t mean that Oregon, Stanford and UCLA won’t make a run at a national title, it just means they are significantly less likely to put together a sustained run of dominance. You know, like the seven years of 11-plus wins and top-five finishes the Trojans pumped out from 2002-2008.
What it comes down to is USC’s balance sheet—the perfect combination of top-tier talent, money, facilities, location and history. It’s a portfolio that no other program in the Pac-12 can touch.
The cornerstone of sustaining success in college athletics—other than coaching—is recruiting. It’s the backbone of the constant struggle to fight the turnover inherent to eligibility and the NFL draft.
USC has outgunned the rest of the Pac-12 in recruiting in a way that puts it in a different class. In fact, according to Rivals’ class rankings, only five teams in the country have out-recruited the Trojans since 2011. The short list includes Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Florida and LSU. Auburn is tied with USC, and both programs beat out powerhouses like Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan.
Take a look at the Pac-12 team recruiting rankings since 2011.
There is no real competition for USC, only teams that manage to come close every couple of years. The Trojans will keep winning on the field simply because they continue to dominate on the recruiting trail.
Cold Hard Cash
Though it seems safe to assume that USC has a bunch of money to spend on its football program, how much cash is running through its coffers?
Take a look at football revenues versus expenses for the Pac-12 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool.
Equity in Athletics Data Analysis
Though USC’s third-place finish in both revenue and profit may come as a surprise, remember that 2012 was the year the Trojans sank to 7-6, their worst mark since 2001.
Oregon, on the other hand, went 12-1 and finished the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll. Washington’s place at the top of the heap is a little more difficult to understand as it also went 7-6 in 2012, a finish that wasn’t as tragic relative to its overall track record.
What is clear is that USC earns more than enough money to keep up with the Joneses in the Pac-12, even in an off year when ticket, merchandise and bowl revenue was way down.
Though it’s safe to say that sunny Southern California has the edge over places like Madison, Wisconsin; Norman, Oklahoma; and even Tallahassee, Florida, the L.A. area is also attractive within its own region.
Think about it: Would you rather be shipped off to Oregon—yes, it’s scenic, but it’s also cold—rainy Seattle, scorching Arizona or sun-kissed Los Angeles?
Really, the only place that looks better—on the West Coast—is San Diego, but the Aztecs play in the Mountain West, not the Pac-12, which is the regional gateway to the College Football Playoff.
And if you’re thinking, what about UCLA?—that’s a good question. That is, until you look at the facilities the Trojans have to offer.
USC unveiled its new $70 million, 110,000-square-foot athletics facility in August of 2012, an addition that put the Trojans at the forefront of the facilities arms race in college sports.
To get a feel for the Trojans’ new digs, check out this video tour.
The only program in the Pac-12 that can compete with the McKay Center is Oregon—the Ducks’ flashy quarters have been favorably compared to a Las Vegas casino fantasyland.
Which program has the better facilities? Well, that’s up to the eye of the beholder, but even having to ask the question means that the question is subjective at best.
No Pac-12 program can come close to claiming the success USC has enjoyed, both in the short term and then further back in time.
Take a look at the numbers, they don’t lie.
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College Football Data Warehouse
Does a history of greatness really matter to a program trying to reestablish itself as a national powerhouse?
A track record of excellence gives a sense of what can be done. It’s not just what can be dreamed up, it’s what the guys before you already did, something that can be repeated by a talented group of young athletes clad in the same colors.
It’s the difference between hope and reality.
The Bottom Line
Not only is USC’s 2014 asset portfolio as good as it was during Pete Carroll’s seven-year reign of terror from 2002 to 2008—it's better. The Trojans still have the money, the talent and the location, and they’ve improved their facilities and added chapters to their history of winning.
The only thing separating USC from another string of national championships is the right coaching staff. Tune in to see if Steve Sarkisian and company are that magical ingredient that turns the Pac-12 back into USC’s own personal playground.
Statistics courtesy of College Football Data Warehouse.