USC Football Roundtable: Are Trojans Justified in Scheduling Soft Mid-Majors?


USC football announced match ups with Utah State, Western Michigan and UNLV in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons Wednesday, raising some questions about the quality of the opposition the Trojans are due to face.

With USC set to face Notre Dame, along with Alabama, Texas and BYU in those years respectively, we wondered if the Trojans are justified in scheduling soft mid-majors.

Matthew Moreno:

An argument can certainly be made USC is justified is scheduling “soft mid-majors,” though I do not believe it’s a road worth traveling.

Yes, the recognizable names of Alabama, BYU, Notre Dame and Texas line the schedule for years to come, but that doesn’t exactly offset Arkansas State, Idaho, UNLV and Western Michigan.

Utah State, the other added game to the 2016 schedule, I don’t necessarily take issue with.

What Texas will be moving forward is still an unknown. They pulled in a good recruiting class, but Charlie Strong’s tenure got off to a rocky start as he balanced cleaning up the program with winning.

Dec 20, 2014; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Utah State Aggies cornerback Tyler Floyd (15) celebrates his second half interception with teammate Marwin Evans (24) against the UTEP Miners during the 2014 New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Utah State defeated UTEP 21-6. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

BYU is a respectable opponent, but nothing eye-opening. I can live with them being on the schedule. Notre Dame is Notre Dame.

That game will always have some sort of national cache behind it, but we’ve also seen the Irish go through down years. And because SC plays them annually, I believe the game is diluted (national perspective) unless one or both teams are highly ranked.

As for the others, I have to believe USC could’ve found more formidable opponents than UNLV and Western Michigan — no disrespect to either of them. That doesn’t mean it needed to be a top-5 or top-10 program.  What about a Boise State? Or an ACC opponent?

Collectively, the Pac-12 has made great strides to becoming a more complete conference, so USC can get away with their 2015 and likely 2016 out of conference schedules.

But will that be the case moving forward? If the Pac-12 is to fall off, then the Trojans may regret some of their scheduling decisions.

To be completely fair, I’m aware scheduling games isn’t a one-way street and it’s plausible SC was turned away by other schools. But even if that were the case, I’m not convinced they exhausted all resources before settling on UNLV and Western Michigan.

Michael Castillo:

On the surface, USC playing Group of 5 schools is not exciting. It’s not sexy. Those games likely won’t sell out the Coliseum. But it’s important to understand the strategy that Steve Sarkisian and Pat Haden are deploying here.

The Trojans are extremely proud of the history they’ve made for themselves with strong schedules, so they’re not going to play an FCS schools.

Furthermore, since Pat Haden has taken over as AD, USC’s non-conference schedule has gotten significantly better than the deals that Mike Garrett penned at the end of the Pete Carroll era when big programs decided they wanted nothing to do with USC.

Sep 21, 2013; Iowa City, IA, USA; Western Michigan Broncos Quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen (2) runs away from the Iowa Hawkeyes tackles Carl Davis (71) and Darian Cooper (97) at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The result is that Haden has replaced schools like Syracuse, Minnesota and Boston College with Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. That’s an upgrade.

So because of those marquee games, along with Notre Dame on the schedule, it’s only reasonable to have a manageable opponent as the third and final opponent since Pac-12 teams play 12 games in a season.

In steps a very respectable Utah State, a MAC contender in Western Michigan and then UNLV.

They’re not FCS opponents but they’re not unwinnable games to create a schedule so difficult that it’s nearly impossible to make the playoffs. You can afford to do that with nine conference games, plus the likes of Notre Dame and Texas on the docket.

That’s solid schedule making all around, and it’s not like it’s pricing USC out of the playoff debate. You might remember that Alabama played SMU, FAU and FCS school Western Carolina last season, in addition to a neutral site game with West Virginia.

An extra Pac-12 game, Notre Dame and a big box opponent like Texas trumps that any day of the week, as one mid major is better than three.

Alicia de Artola:

As far as USC is concerned, there is no reason to schedule opponents stronger than the three they have lined up in Utah State, Western Michigan and UNLV.

For one, no one could accuse USC of poor scheduling with Alabama, Texas, Tennessee and BYU already on the schedule. In fact, Notre Dame being on the docket each year gives the Trojans a plus every year in the scheduling department, regardless of the strength of the Irish.

As for concerns about “real” schedule strength and the playoffs, USC has nothing to worry about. Even if Texas or BYU are terrible, it is still a marquee name alongside Notre Dame to bolster the Trojans’ resume. So long as the third team does not break the tradition of never playing an FCS school, it does not matter who they are.

Would having a team like Boston College on the schedule, as opposed to a UNLV, have made USC playoff hopes this year? Not likely. Will Arkansas State or Idaho derail USC’s chances this season? Not if the Trojans win the Pac-12 and have three OOC wins to their name.

What do think of USC’s new opponents? Sound off in the comments below.

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