Could USC's Lane Kiffin Get the Last Laugh with an AP Championship?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IAugust 24, 2010

Many people in the college football world felt that cosmic karma was restored when head coach Lane Kiffin learned that the NCAA was imposing penalties upon USC that would bar the Trojans from postseason play, and that USC would lose several scholarships over the next couple of years.

After all, it was clear to those with passing knowledge of Kiffin’s brief tenure at Tennessee that he had done the Volunteer faithful wrong.

The NCAA was sniffing around the Tennessee program looking for possible NCAA violations in what appeared to be minutes after Kiffin’s departure for Southern Cal.

Tennessee has confessed to at least six secondary violations of NCAA rules during the time Kiffin was leading the Volunteers.

The NCAA, however, isn’t quite satisfied and the investigation is ongoing.

Adding insult to injury, Kiffin coaxed a couple of assistant coaches from Tennessee to join him in Los Angeles.

Coach Kiffin appeared to some people as a little too cavalier in how he left the Volunteers to go join USC.  Was it arrogance or self-confidence?  

The coaching boy wonder was now among the highest paid coaches in all of college football, yet he had not guided a team to a 10 win season or won a single BCS bowl game.  Most college football fans believed that Kiffin was too arrogant for his own good.

Kiffin clearly should not be rewarded for bolting from Tennessee. The football gods could not let Lane leave the Volunteer program tainted and in shambles without suffering any consequences for his actions.

Then the news broke that USC was going to be sanctioned and that the penalty was not going to be a little slap on the wrist.  The big smile on Kiffin’s face that beamed so brightly in the California sun appeared to disappear.

No BCS Championship opportunities, no BCS Bowl appearances, and fewer scholarships for USC for the first couple years of the Kiffin regime.

Ah, revenge, a dish best served cold.

Recruits come to USC for the opportunity to play for the National Championship.  Coach Kiffin is clearly not going to be able to keep his troops motivated throughout the year with no opportunity to play on the national stage in a bowl game. 

Shortly after the NCAA announced the sanctions, the No. 1 offensive line recruit in the nation, Seantrel Henderson, left USC to transfer to the Miami Hurricanes.    

The writing on the wall appeared to clear:  Lane’s coaching career at USC was going to get off to a horrendous start.

The folks in Knoxville knew that karma would work its magic, they just couldn’t have believed that things would turn around so quickly and that the ledger with Kiffin would be balanced so soon.

Of course, karma can be strange.

The Associated Press, not bound by the same rules of the USA Today Coaches poll, decided to put USC among its top 20 teams.  Specifically, the AP rewarded the Trojans with a No. 14 ranking.

What is the significance of being ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press?

Coach Kiffin now has something he can give his team to use to stay motivated throughout the year.

Instead of a meaningless season without the possibility of a BCS bowl on the line, Coach Kiffin can now motivate his players with the idea of playing a season with 13 bowl games.

While USC has no chance to get to the BCS Championship this year, they now have a chance to claim the mythical AP Championship.

The Trojans now have something to play for this season: an undefeated season and an AP Championship.

An undefeated season for the Trojans is not a given since they have three difficult road games with Stanford on October 9, Arizona on November 13, and No. 24 Oregon State on November 20.

USC also has four tough home games with Washington on October 2, No. 10 Oregon on October 30, Arizona on November 6, and Notre Dame on November 27.

The cherry on top for the Trojans is that they end the season with their crosstown rival UCLA Bruins.

USC will then need each of the teams ranked ahead of them in the AP poll to drop at least one game to allow the Trojans to pass them.

Fortunately for the Trojans, most of the teams ahead of them in the AP poll play each other which in turn means that USC likely needs only one or two upsets of the top 10 teams to be the only team at the end of the year that is undefeated.

No. 1 Alabama plays No. 4 Florida at least once and maybe twice this year.

No. 2 Ohio State, No. 9 Iowa, and No. 12 Wisconsin each play other.

No. 2 Ohio State may knock out No. 13 Miami.

No. 5 Texas, No. 7 Oklahoma, and No. 8 Nebraska also square off against each other and No. 8 Nebraska might get a chance to play No. 5 Texas or No. 7 Oklahoma twice.

No. 10 Virginia Tech can put a loss on the resume of No. 3 Boise State.

No. 13 Miami can knock off No. 10 Virginia Tech.

Of course, USC can take care of No. 11 Oregon.

With all of the top teams in the AP poll playing each other, it is very likely that no team will finish the season undefeated.

The only team ranked ahead of the Trojans that does not play another team ranked among the top ten is No. 6 TCU.

Could the Trojans be hoping for No. 24 Oregon State to upset the No. 6 Horned Frogs to start the season?

The chances that USC goes undefeated and that each of the teams ahead of them in the AP loses a game are not great, but then again are USC’s chances of finishing No. 1 in the AP poll any different than its chances of playing in the BCS Championship game?

How big would the smile on Coach Lane Kiffin’s face be on December 4 taking the field with the chance to claim the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll with a victory against UCLA?

No there will be no championship trophy to put in the USC trophy case where the faux Reggie Bush Heisman Trophy was previously located if USC ends the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. 

Coach Kiffin will just have to be satisfied with the prospect of getting the last laugh this season. 

Karma is strange indeed.


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