Before USC fans fly off the handle about the Trojans appearing at No. 16 in the B/R Top 25, keep in mind that a number of voters didn't put USC on their ballots because of the NCAA-imposed sanctions.
Equally important to remember is the fact that USC was entirely ineligible to be ranked by the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll, meaning a BCS rankings was impossible. Also keep in mind that USC is currently the No. 5 team in the nation in the AP Poll.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can focus on the actual play of the Trojans this season.
USC began the season against a hapless Minnesota team, and USC seemed entirely unmotivated in the 19-17 victory. Similarly, USC relied on some late theatrics to defeat Utah in the Pac-12 opener for both teams a week later.
After dispatching Syracuse, USC was absolutely dismantled by a surging Arizona State team that everyone thought was headed for a Pac-12 South Division title in 2011. The victory for the Sun Devils even gave ASU some street cred, eliminating the threat of USC fans retorting with “we all know who really won the South this season.”
Well, as it turns out, that loss to ASU may have served as a wake-up call to the Trojans, as the team began its tear through the conference.
USC even came within a hair of knocking off mighty Stanford in a triple-overtime loss, 56-48. Since USC finished the season 10-2, including a Pac-12 South-best 7-2, it seems those Trojan fans can actually begin printing up the t-shirts lauding their fictitious Pac-12 true South Division Championship.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from the 2011 USC season is what it means for 2012 and beyond. Those who were hoping that NCAA sanctions and post-season bans meant that USC would be a deflated team for years to come have been proven wrong so far. USC is still USC, and right from the get-go next season, they'll be an early favorite to win the Pac-12 and return to the Rose Bowl.
Hats off the Lane Kiffin and his players for refusing to quit, and playing with purpose and determination down the stretch. We'll even give USC some extra credit for knocking off eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon (we still would love to see a rematch).
Final Grade: A