Give Them a Break

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The USC Football team is the perennial punching bag of college football fans. When they dominate, it’s because they got off easy in the Pac-10. When they lose, they get the full brunt of the criticism. And when they can’t play in the postseason, it’s just assumed that they’re bad.

Since this summer, when the NCAA struck decisively and definitively, the program has had to take an inordinate amount of crap — even by Trojans’ standards. With a loss of two years of bowl eligibility (pending appeal), 10 scholarships per season, and the loss of touted players, not to mention the whole Reggie Bush fiasco, it’s been a brutal few months.

Some Trojans think that the team is getting the short end of the stick: UNC has all kinds of eligibility problems, leading to the suspension of more than a dozen players while the mess is all straightened out, but it’s still not as bad as a two-year bowl ban. (Let me say, though, that I can’t agree here. First of all, the NCAA took months to decide USC’s fate; they couldn’t have indiscriminately punished UNC with a ban after the season started. Furthermore, though, the loss of so many starters has jeopardized the team’s performance so much that they’re probably not going to finish with a good enough record to make a bowl game anyway.)

Still, in the shadow of a “hopeless” season, all the Trojans have done is win. Sure, they may not have been the prettiest wins against the prettiest opponents, but they were still wins — and three of the four wins were on the road. Nevertheless, after entering the season at No. 14 on the AP Poll, USC won and fell in the rankings. Three times. From 14 to 16 to 18 to 20, the Trojans won and lost simultaneously.

The way the BCS works, I suppose the decisiveness of the win should matter. But to fall three times after three wins? That doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. There must be something else at play. To be fair, the AP did give USC two places back after the win over Washington State, of all teams.

But it’s evident that USC just isn’t being taken as seriously because it has no clout with regard to national championship or bowl implications. Or maybe they’re dropping because of an anticipation of losses as players struggle with fabled morale issues.

In any case, USC has done everything it can so far. If the team goes 13-0 and wins every game from here on out by one point, they’ll still be wins, regardless of the margin. Should USC really be ranked under teams that have already succumbed to defeat this season that are similar in talent? I don’t think so.

But it’s certainly not something completely unexpected. USC always gets the raw end of the deal as far as public perception because the team pisses people off. They win when they aren’t supposed to and make moves like hiring Lane Kiffin. It’s no surprise that they’re getting no respect in the national polls.