A year ago, USC fans were booking hotel rooms in South Beach for New Years. This year, there’s been some concern about the Trojans faltering in Week 4 against Utah State. But don’t tell Utah Utes’ head coach Kyle Whittingham about the plight of the 7-5 Trojans, as he still puts USC on top of the Pac-12 South, per The Salt Lake Tribune.
“From a talent standpoint, SC is still the benchmark,” Whittingham said during the Pac-12’s spring teleconference. “I don’t think there’s any question. They’ve had the most talent in the league for a lot of years. … You still have to say the Trojans are the guys that everyone’s trying to catch.”
Talent wise, it’s hard to argue against Whittingham. USC brings in a handful of five-star recruits for the 2013 season, and have arguably the most dynamic skill player in college football, in Marqise Lee.
Comparing Utah’s talent to USC’s talent pool is like comparing apples to oranges or Sprite to Safeway Select, but are the Trojans still the benchmark in the division as a whole? Maybe not, given the wide range of variables to take into account, such as coaching, luck and administration.
Arizona State returns a slew of talent including the best defensive player in the country not named Clowney, and UCLA has a talented quarterback in Brett Hundley, with both of teams sporting better records than the Trojans in 2012. Even internally, you would have to think that there would debates.
Last season, Lane Kiffin made remarks that it’s hard to compete at a top level with the recruiting sanctions in place, alluding to the idea that guys who normally would have been projected to go to USC, are finding themselves at other Pac-12 schools. That sense of entitlement to the riches and excuse would imply that Kiffin wholeheartedly believes that USC should be the benchmark but aren’t in the position to truly be.
Whether or not that’s the case, the Trojans seem to play well of late when the spotlight isn’t on them, like in 2011. Perhaps the pressure on ASU and UCLA could allow USC to reassert themselves as an obvious benchmark. Or, they could continue the troubles of 2012 and decide it in a much different way.
* * * *
What say you? Despite the tumultuous 2012 campaign, are the Trojans still the deciding peg in the Pac-12 South? Vote in our poll and discuss it in the comments below.