Going into every season, each Pac-12 team has one goal: getting to the Rose Bowl with the hopes of winning it by beating a Big Ten team. While the Trojans had a lot more to hope for with Matt Barkley and company returning, two losses haven’t at all hurt the Trojans’ chances for making the Rose Bowl, due to the creation of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Trojans are 4-2 in the Pac-12, sitting on top of the Pac-12 South by a half game with complete control of their own destiny in the division. The ability to determine things is only tied to winning, if that wasn’t clear, and with games at home to Oregon and at the Rose Bowl against UCLA, it’s not like the Trojans have an easy path to waltz their way to the title game.
Then again, knowing the history of USC football in the last seven years, knocking themselves out of BCS contention only to rally and make the Rose Bowl, then look invincible to troll everyone seems more than plausible, if not expected at this point.
Getting by Arizona is still a tough challenge however, even though the Trojans have a game and a half lead on the Wildcats. Arizona is the only team in the south that currently has a tie-breaker over the Trojans, and with USC being underdogs against Oregon this week, a loss to the Ducks and an Arizona win over UCLA puts Rich Rodriguez’s team firmly into the drivers seat with the Trojans needing to ask for help from Colorado, Utah or Arizona State. The chances of any of one of those three beating Arizona right now? Not too great.
So hold the notion that the Trojans are merely playing the role of spoilers on Saturday, because it’s likely that they’re playing for their shot at the Rose Bowl.
Wins over Arizona State and UCLA are far from locks the way USC is playing, but a win over Oregon solidifies them as the favorite to win the Pac-12 South outright, with the subsequent possibility of meeting Oregon or Stanford for a second time.
To host the game, USC would need a small miracle, also known as ‘needing a bunch of home teams to win games’. They would need Oregon to beat Stanford, Stanford to beat Oregon State, and Oregon State to beat Oregon. Should the win out and the aforementioned scenario play out, the Ducks would win the north based on their intradivison record, and USC would hold the hosting tie-breaker over Oregon.
So you’re saying there’s a chance? Eh, don’t hold your breath.
But really, the truth of the matter is that the Trojans don’t need to stress about hosting, even if it wasn’t such a longshot. The Pac-12 Champioship Game was created to give two teams one final shot at making the Rose Bowl, and whether winning the Pac-12 means winning eight games or 14 games, it’s still one game to decide it all.
The Trojans need to take one game at a time as they did in 2011 following the loss to Stanford, and they can salvage the season.
They still need to fix a ton of things on offense and defense, as well as the knack for taking penalties, but maybe a glimmer of hope will fuel the Trojans since expectations are now a thing of the past.
They thrived on the lack of expectations a season ago, can they do it again?