Why USC Is Overrated (But Alas, Still the Best)

Gerald BallCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2008

In response to "Are the USC Trojans Overrated?"

Time for an SEC fan and despiser of Western football and the passing game to put the USC Trojans in their place.

And what place is that?  Number one!

The USC Trojans were clearly the top program in college football from 2002-2007.  Even better (or from my perspective, worse), were they to fall off a bit and go 8-4 two seasons in a row, they would still almost certainly be the top team from 2002-2009.

This can be quickly established by throwing out all of the subjective considerations (national titles, polls, bowl berths, NFL draft picks) and looking at the numbers: USC is the only team not to lose more than two games in a season in that span.  Adding only a bit of subjectivity to it, USC has also won six of seven BCS bowl games.

That means that USC has had at least two games against the BCS top 15 every season and can credibly claim to have beaten their best or toughest opponent each year save 2005.

The natural rejoinder for an SEC fan such as myself would be to say that these accomplishments are diminished because they came in a weak conference.  Setting aside direct SEC-Pac-10 comparisons for now, I have to say that claiming that the Pac-10 was weaker than the ACC and Big East from 2002 to 2007 is not credible.

The Big Ten and the Big 12 have a stronger cases against the Pac-10 than the ACC or Big East, but they are at best inconclusive and in many measures favor the Pac-10.  In the worst scenario for the Pac-10, either the Big Ten or the Big 12 was better, but not both.

This means that the worst that can be said about USC is that they compiled the best record of success in the third best conference.  When you combine their seven BCS games with the fact that they do not play I-AA or Sun Belt teams out of conference, then it is impossible even for an SEC fan to attribute their success to scheduling.

Now to deal directly with the SEC.  Let us pretend that USC took the place of any of the top three SEC teams during this time period: LSU, UGA, or Auburn.

Would USC have the same record while playing Florida, Tennessee, the other top two teams, and the SEC championship game?  No.  Claiming otherwise dismisses the accomplishments of those very strong teams in much the same manner that USC partisans claim—not entirely without justification—that SEC fans do.

For instance, SEC fans certainly know that USC beat Auburn 23-0 in 2003.  But USC fans seem not to know—or care—that LSU and UGA beat Auburn 31-7 and 26-7, respectively, that same year.  If USC blowing out Auburn made them a great team in 2003, then what about LSU and UGA doing the same AND THEN PLAYING EACH OTHER TWICE?

But SEC fans, we should not get ahead of ourselves.  LSU, UGA, or Auburn would not have had the same record against USC's schedule.

Why not?  Because during this time period, USC had Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Keary Colbert, Fred Davis, and Dominique Byrd.

Some of those guys (Palmer and Davis) only had one great season during the run, while others (Booty, Byrd) were clearly products of the players around them.  Still, there have been stretches during this time when the QB, WR, and RB play at the top SEC schools ranged from average to brutal.

Case in point: Florida winning the SEC and national title without a tailback.  As much as that speaks to the great coaching ability of Urban Meyer and staff, you really would rather not see that happen—just as you would really rather not see UGA so often be at or near the top of the SEC with their always mediocre WRs.

Regarding USC versus the SEC, it's difficult to claim that you are better when the next guy consistently has better players.  Remember, this is coming from an SEC guy who loathes the passing game.

We have gone through the ways that USC is not overrated.  How, then, are they overrated?

1. Being the best team from 2002-2007 does not equal being the best team in every single season.  Why should USC refrain from claiming that they would have beaten Ohio State in 2002, LSU in 2003, Auburn in 2004, Florida in 2006, and LSU in 2007?

Simple: Texas in 2005.  Take away 2005, and Mack Brown has never so much as won a conference title—yet in that one season, his team was better than USC and everybody else.

2. USC's run is not unprecedented.  This is the answer to "the best team ever" nonsense.  As a matter of fact, Florida accomplished almost as much during the '90s.  FSU accomplished as much during that same time period.  Nebraska, meanwhile, incontrovertibly accomplished more, as did Miami, in the 1980s.

Right now, USC is at best tied for third with FSU.  Even winning another national title would at best tie the Trojans for second with Nebraska behind Miami from 1984 to 1992.

Keep this in mind: SEC fans revile Miami and FSU as much as they do USC, if not more.  We merely respect them a bit more because A) they play each other every year, in addition to FSU also playing Florida and Miami playing Florida often, including this year, and B) their players tend to do better in the pros.

3. The media effect.

A) USC is a private school with a nationally known academic reputation in a major city.  That means it is the type of school that the opinion makers at ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, etc. attended, the people in their social/workplace circles attended, or they will send their kids to.  This also describes the institutions that USC often plays, i.e. UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Washington, Notre Dame, and Michigan.

National media members generally do not go to schools like Auburn, LSU, Nebraska, or West Virginia, or to any school that they typically play.  Neither do their friends and neighbors, and they certainly don't send their kids there.  That colors the coverage that these respective schools receive: a lot - and uniformly positive - for USC and similar, while very little - and at times negative or backhanded compliments - for schools in what the media considers flyover country.

B) Most members of the national media grew up in and attended college in areas of the country where college football is not that big.  As a result, they are much bigger fans of the pro game than the college one and have little knowledge of why the college game is different from the pro game, or the desire to learn.

Because USC, FSU, Miami, etc. run offenses that are more similar to NFL offenses, the media presume them to be better.  (It also helps that the passing game makes football easier to follow.  Let's face it: The media is often going to better relate to the QB than a tailback or safety, so teams that build their program around the QB are always going to get more media attention.)

Add A and B together, and the result is that a 10-2 USC is not only going to get more exposure and be presumed to be BETTER than not only a 10-2 West Virginia, but even a 12-0 West Virginia in the eyes of the media.

First, even if this were GENERALLY the case, it would still not necessarily be true in any given year.  Once again, see the "Mack Brown won the only conference title in his career the year his Longhorns beat USC for the national title" example.

Second, even the evidence that this is GENERALLY the case is lacking.  Contrary to popular belief, passing offenses do not dominate the national title picture.  As a matter of fact, the only programs to win national titles with a pro style offense this decade are Oklahoma, Miami, and USC.  Ohio State, LSU, Texas, and Meyer's Florida did not win titles with pro style or passing offenses.

I suppose that you can claim the late '90s until the early part of this decade for the passing game, as Steve Spurrier's Florida, FSU, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Miami, Michigan, and USC got it done during that time period.  But even during the time of passing game dominance, LSU, Ohio State, and Nebraska won titles.

At best, the battle between the passing game and the option/run-oriented offenses is a wash. That means Miami, FSU, USC, and Florida (under Spurrier) won all those national titles because they had better players, not because of what they ran on offense.

The evidence: Despite all those years of running the passing game, all the Pac-9 (Pac-10 sans USC) has to show for it is two national titles, the last of those coming in 1991.  This means that a talented run- or defense-oriented team certainly can defeat a similarly talented pass-oriented team.

USC fans have their own losses at the hands of Kansas State in 2002 and Texas in 2005 as evidence of this, as do Florida, Tennessee, and UGA fans their bowl game debacles to Nebraska and West Virginia.

Losses to option teams by SEC pro style or passing teams constitute three of the SEC's four BCS game losses (the fourth to Miami) and their only two losses in games with national title implications since UGA lost to Penn State in the early 1980s.

In the final analysis, USC is overrated: never as good as they are made out to be, but still No. 1.

For now.


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