It’s become one of college football’s most hallowed rituals: every year, sometime around the end of August, the media pundits and self-appointed college-football gurus will begin to tell the nation that Southern Cal is unstoppable.
Inevitably, a few weeks later some Pac-10 pushover proves them wrong.
This year was no different.
It all started after Week One, as pundits swooned over Southern Cal and how they “flew all the way across the continent” and put a beat-down on Virginia. The talking heads told us to circle the Ohio State/USC matchup on our calendars. The winner of that game would, the media assured us, be making the trip to Miami for the BCS National Championship game.
Two weeks later Ohio State was run off the field by the Trojans, and the media immediately anointed USC the presumptive National Champions.
Nevermind that Ohio State, already a suspect team after being blown out two years in a row in the National Championship game, was missing their star running back “Beanie” Wells. Nevermind that Ohio State had struggled against some “other” Ohio team only a week earlier.
According to the pundits, USC had just dominated their only competition, and the rest of the season would be so automatic that there was little point in going through the formality of actually playing the games.
Oregon State didn’t get the memo. In front of a national television audience, the Beavers showed everyone that Southern Cal was, contrary to popular belief, still fielding a team of mortal men. Oregon State won by lining up and running their pint-sized RB Jacquizz Rodgers right at the Trojans.
USC didn’t get stunned. They got straight-up beat.
In true fashion, the national media fell all over themselves to pronounce the game a shocker. How could unranked Oregon State take down the mighty Trojans, a program that ESPN.com dubbed the “No. 1 team of the decade?”
Simple. The Trojans simply aren’t as good as their admirers in the media think they are. Let’s examine the resume of the “No. 1 team of the decade” since their highly-touted coach Pete Carroll took over in 2001.
Carroll went 6-6 in his first year, losing to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. One may be willing to give Carroll a break here, although it should be pointed out that that many SEC schools could probably send their scout teams to the Pac-10 and still do better than .500.
After opening the season 3-2, the Trojans won out and ended up 11-2. USC fans were indignant that “despite tying for the Pac-10 Conference title, having the highest BCS ‘strength of schedule’ rating, and fielding the nation’s top defense,” the team only ended up ranked No. 5. Clearly, any team that manages to tie Washington State for the Pac-10 title deserves to play for a national championship.
The Trojans play well against SEC competition in Auburn, but then choke against a weak Pac-10 opponent, losing to Cal in triple-overtime. Nevertheless, by the end of the season USC had somehow managed to weasel its way back to the top of the polls, despite their early loss against a weak opponent.
However, the BCS computers, which didn’t take the date of the wins and losses into account, nailed USC for its early loss to a weak opponent and the silicon ranked Oklahoma No. 1.
LSU beat Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game. USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The season ended with a split decision, with the AP Poll voting USC No. 1 in its final rankings, while the USA / Coaches Poll automatically confirmed the result of the BCS Title Game.
USC tried its best to lose to Stanford and Cal, but the weakness of the Pac-10, combined with USC suddenly getting the pick of the litter in recruiting the state of California, proved to be too much. The Trojans went undefeated, as did Oklahoma, Auburn and Utah.
For reasons that remain completely inexplicable, the voters take the Pac 10 and the Big 12 for the BCS Championship Game. Auburn, a team that had beaten three ranked opponents, and, more impressively, somehow managed to go undefeated in the SEC, ended up left out of the Championship game. USC embarrassed the Sooners, and took home its second National Championship in a row under suspect circumstances.
Yet again, USC was back in the National Championship game, thanks to an ungodly amount of 5-star talent and their weak conference schedule. Nevertheless, the National Championship game ended with the underdog Texas Longhorns sending the Trojans home trophy-less.
Once again, Southern Cal is loaded with five-star recruits. Once again the pundits claim they are unbeatable. Once again they lose early to a Pac-10 opponent, dropping a game to unranked Oregon State.
Yet, once again, by the end of the season USC climbed back high enough in the polls to put them on their way to yet another National Championship game. Instead, the Trojans got beat by Pac-10 (and cross-town) rival UCLA, opening the door for Florida to play for the National Title. Predictably, the SEC school dominated Big 10 opponent Ohio State.
Does the story even need to be repeated—“see above” would almost suffice. The Trojans opened the season as preseason No. 1. The media told us all Southern Cal is unbeatable. Yet, once again, they lose in the Pac-10, this time to 41-point underdog Stanford.
Despite having lost to perhaps the worst team in an undeniably weak conference, USC was still being mentioned as a contender for the National Championship. Three weeks later, the Trojans lose yet another Pac-10 game. They still ended the season ranked No. 6.
There you have it: the team of the decade. Two questionable National Championships and a bunch of blown conference games, despite playing in one of the most powder-puff leagues in the country. Yet the national media can’t get enough.
Inevitably, in eleven months the process will start all over again, and we’ll be hearing how unstoppable the Trojans are. It’s enough to make you question the national media’s motives…
…actually, don’t mind if I do.
Here’s a theory: imagine you’ve just won an all-expenses-paid trip to an American city. Your transportation will be paid. You’ll ride around in a Limo. You’ll stay at the best hotels, eat the best food, meet all the local celebrities, and in general have the run of the town for a week. There’s only one catch—you have to choose from the following list of cities:
- Norman, Oklahoma
- Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Columbia, Missouri
- Los Angeles, California
Get the point? That’s the choice the national media has every year, since their networks and their newspapers are going to pay them, along with all their expenses, to cover the best team in the country.
So, as long as they can still defend it as reasonable choice, they’re going to choose the surf and the sun and the bikinis and the movie stars. Sure, they all know that USC will eventually choke, and they’ll be shipped off to some boring town in the South or the Midwest.
But, hey, there’s always a chance that Southern Cal will somehow manage to navigate their cupcake conference schedule without a loss, which means almost six full months basking in the South Cali sun… Gotta love college football.
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