On Tuesday AthonSports.com released their 2012 college football preseason rankings, and a sense of order was restored to fans in Los Angeles. The mighty Trojans of USC are holding it down at the No. 1 spot, with the LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oregon Ducks, and Oklahoma Sooners rounding out the Top 5. ESPN College Football also had USC at No. 1.
WOOHOO! Bust out the banners! Pop the champagne! Party in the streets! ‘SC’s back, baby, let’s go!
I imagine those are the sentiments being shared by every member of Trojan Nation, as the 2012 season inches closer.
The main reason the Trojans appear to have an excellent shot at making it to the BCS National Championship Game is an offense that could be the most explosive in the country. Quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 3,528 yards and a school-record 39 TD passes a year ago, then passed up the possibility of a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to come back for his senior season. He will be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
And let’s not forget about the Robert Woods/Marqise Lee situation, which Athlon also points out is going to destroy the competition:
Nobody will have a better tandem at wide receiver than the Trojans with All-America junior Robert Woods and flashy sophomore Marqise Lee. Woods set a Pac-12 single-season record with 111 receptions, while Lee caught 73 passes, 11 of them for touchdowns, as a freshman.
But before we book our flights and accommodation to Miami and take victory lap while singing “Fight On for ol’ ‘SC!” let’s stop and think: is being the preseason favorite REALLY all that great for USC?
I say no. Being the favorite actually kind of sucks.
Preseason polls have been around 1950, giving an insight into which teams are expected to do well based on their talent and success in the previous season. Sure it’s fun and to a certain degree useful to have an idea of expectations going into the season, but how many No. 1 teams have gone on to win it all? A total of ten teams* (nine, if you don’t count USC’s 2004-05 season, which we totally count). Just 15-percent of all preseason No. 1s have lived up to the expectations. This is not to say that USC cannot go all the way this year, but to say the odds are not in all in the Trojans’ favor. USC has done it twice of four No. 1 rankings, winning one title and losing the other to Texas. And wouldn’t you know it? Both of those seasons have been conveniently erased by the NCAA.
So there’s that.
Not only that, but USC also has the added fun bonus of being one of the most hated on teams in the NCAA, by fans, analysts, and poll voters alike. Many critics say that USC’s success is inflated because the competition surrounding the Trojans in the Pac-12 is significantly weaker than, say, that of the SEC. For that reason, every single game USC plays in will matter. If the Trojans want to make it all the way to Miami, then they have to win every single game, one week at a time. No other team of the NCS automatic qualifying team has that burden to bear. Alabama didn’t even have to win the SEC and the Tide still made it the national championship to take in LSU in one of the most boring, controversial national championships of all time.
On the other hand, I can’t be too mad at Alabama for going to the title. Had it not been for them robbing any of the other conference champions of their rightful spot in the title game, we might not be on the verge of an college football playoff system.
So for the Trojans, a trip to Miami means winning every single game, no excuses. Even if USC should fall to a team like Oregon, arguably the strongest team in the Pac-12 North, USC will get no sympathy votes like the Ohio States, LSUs, Oklahomas, and Alabamas would get. Not only that, but USC also has to win “convincingly”, whatever that means, another burden that is unique to USC.
Considering all of that, it would be better for USC to be preseason ranked maybe No. 2 or No. 3, just so they have a little cushion to keep going up. In being No. 1 USC has two options: hold it down at the top spot or fall, nothing else. And let’s not pretend like everyone outside of USC fans won’t be praying to the football gods that this happens. Being No. 1 is hard; it comes with a lot of responsibility and expectations, and after all USC has faced in the past two seasons, a road to the national championship with just a little less pressure wouldn’t be a bad deal.
To be sure, USC is very capable of making a championship run, and after the adversity this teamed face and the inspiring way they responded to it, no one deserve it more. Perhaps the voters and the analysts will remember and consider this as the season goes on. Perhaps the same football gods that fans will pray to in hopes of ensuring a Trojan loss will roll their eyes and pave the way for USC’s success. Perhaps this will be the season that reminds us all of the “Decade of Dominance” that seems like it was so, so long ago.
But until play gets underway, USC fans will have to sit tight and hope for the best, and the Trojan team will have to ignore but at the same time embrace the expectations laid before them, and give Trojan Nation as well as the rest of the country a season worth remembering.
No pressure though, right?