USC isn’t doing it the easy way but if we don’t lose another game we can and will be contenders for the National Championship.
With five weeks left in the regular season USC probably has the toughest schedule in the country. Include the Pac-12 Championship game and eventual bowl game and USC could face four undefeated top 5 teams in its last seven games.
That’s good and bad. Good because it gives us a chance to compete for the championship based on the strength of our schedule. And bad because this is going to be a very steep, arduous uphill climb. It kind of makes the fact that we have a loss irrelevant because even if we had beaten Stanford and were still ranked number one, we’d have to climb the exact same daunting hill. The only difference is we can use a little outside help and we’re likely going to be underdogs in all these tough games. Being the underdog could work to our advantage if it gives our players extra motivation or causes our opponents to take us less seriously than if we were ranked #1.
As for the help we need, it’s more about rooting for teams rather than rooting against teams. Our best chance at climbing the polls is to beat Oregon and Notre Dame while they are undefeated. And if that happens we’d like to play an unbeaten Oregon State in the Pac-12 Championship. A lot of people think our goal is to beat Oregon twice, but what helps USC more is for Oregon State to beat Oregon then USC to beat an undefeated and highly ranked Oregon State in the Pac-12 Championship game.
I think the toughest game left on our schedule might be this week’s game against Arizona. This is a really dangerous game because the Wildcats are 4-3 and unranked so there is a risk USC won’t take them as seriously as they should. But Arizona’s record is very deceiving; they were barely edged out by 7th ranked Oregon State and barely lost to 17th ranked Stanford in overtime. So Arizona is a lot better than their record suggests. Arizona is so good that the Las Vegas line is moving in their favor. USC opened as an 8 point favorite but so many people bet on Arizona that the line is down to 6.5 points. That is a little surprising since USC is in the top 10 and Arizona isn’t ranked. But it tells you how good the Wildcats are on how tenuous USC’s ranking is but if we make it out of Arizona with a win we’ll be set to make a run for the championship.
I think the biggest hurdle USC has is themselves. USC is the most penalized team in the country and this lack of discipline is a killer against solid teams. It means one handed TD catches being called back. It means deep third down defensive stops turned into first downs in field goal range. It means punt returns taken from one end zone to the other being nullified. There are so many ways an untimely penalty can cost you the game; when you average ten per game it’s no wonder USC isn’t dominating the opposition like we should. We’re lucky all these penalties haven’t cost us more than one win but if we don’t fix this NOW it’s going to cost us several more wins.
We’ll learn a lot about the team this week. Look for Matt Barkley and the offense to keep rolling and build on the momentum from the Colorado game. Arizona’s quarterback ranks number four in the country in total passing yards so the defense probably won’t shut down the Wildcat offense but look for USC to control their passing game to give us a chance to win. And perhaps most importantly watch for a big reduction in penalties. And always #BE7IEVE!