USC’s 2015 National Title Hype Assumes Too Many Maybes


Within the past week, offseason talk around USC football has determined three “truths.”

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First, Steve Sarkisian is the ninth best coach in the Pac-12, according to Athlon.

Second, the Trojans will face the second toughest schedule in the nation, according to Phil Steele.

Finally, USC is the fourth most likely team to win the championship, according to Las Vegas sports books.

The trouble is, all three of these things cannot be true.

The ninth best coach in the Pac-12 does not win championships. Certainly not when his team faces the second toughest schedule in America.

What should be made of these projections?

Simply put, fans and media are counting chickens which have yet to hatch.

Meanwhile, Sarkisian is being judged not on potential but on results. His team on the other hand, is being judged by the opposite criteria — all the possibilities but few actual accomplishments.

The 2015 season presents a lot of maybes.A lot of possibly’s.A lot of potentially’s.USC needs just about all of them to pan out to even sniff a championship.

That is not to say Sarkisian should not be critiqued for his handling of the 2014 season or that the players cannot or will not have improved greatly from last season to now.

There is a problem in how this offseason has created a whirlwind of contradictory expectations. The hype has sealed a scenario where there can be no middle ground.

Fans and media alike expect Sarkisian to be no better than average as a coach while simultaneously projecting championship aspirations on an unproven crop of talented players.

It was a better situation in 2012, and everyone knows how that turned out.

Back then, media and fans projected a USC team which had just won 11 games, was returning a great number of starters, including a Heisman-candidate quarterback, and was finally bowl eligible as a championship contender.

Few paid mind to the fact that said team would be without their best lineman, Matt Kalil, and other key contributors. Few caught on that the hype was largely built on potential and emotion.

Going into 2015, USC once again has the championship and Heisman hype. They also have a Kalil-sized hole to fill on the defensive line without Leonard Williams and no clear plan to fill it.

Maybe the combined efforts and improvements of Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons will make up for Williams absence. Maybe Kenny Bigelow will have a breakout year. Maybe incoming freshmen Rasheem Green and Jacob Daniel will be difference makers.

Maybe Justin Davis will grab the reins on offense and negate the massive loss of Buck Allen. Maybe Tre Madden will stay healthy this time.

September 27, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) looks to pass against the Oregon State Beavers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe quantity of receivers will work in replacing the quality of Nelson Agholor. Maybe Steven Mitchell will deliver on a promising spring.

Maybe Randall Telfer is not the next Rhett Ellison, an undervalued role player whose level of contribution only became apparent once he was gone. Maybe Connor Spears is the answer to all problems.

Maybe Adoree’ Jackson is not stretching himself too thin playing both ways.

Maybe Cody Kessler is not due for a Matt Barkley-esque let down.

Maybe Sarkisian can learn from Lane Kiffin’s 2012 mistakes. Maybe year two will yield better game plans, more efficient adjustments and greater decision making instead of doubling down on stubbornness.

That’s a lot of maybes. A lot of possibly’s. A lot of potentially’s.

USC needs just about all of them to pan out to even sniff a championship.

The concern is about the fairness and degree of criticism which will certainly be lobbed at the first sign of trouble, when the first couple maybes become won’ts.

It should not be the end of the world if Kessler remains at his level and, like 99% of the quarterbacks in USC history, doesn’t produce a Heisman season.

It would not be a sin if any number of players did not quite live up to their potential, whether because of injury or tapped out ability. It happens in football.

Nor should it be considered a failure for Sarkisian to miss out on the playoff with a squad that still consists of ten fewer scholarship players than everyone else, 28 of whom are freshman who have never played a down of college football.

Based on projections, hype and expectations, however, it would be.

Either USC will match expectations and take their place in the College Football Playoff, proving Sarkisian is far more than ninth best and faith in those players’ talent was well founded.

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Or USC will fall short — a far more likely scenario with the nation’s second toughest schedule — and there will be hell to pay because the Trojans started out with 15/1 odds.

Once the negativity and blaming begins, few will care whether those odds were warranted in the first place.

Excitement for the coming season is a fundamental part of the offseason.

In fact, that’s the beauty of the offseason. Before a ball is kicked, anything can happen. Every team could be champions. Every player could become a legend.

The key is resisting the temptation to let excitement breed entitlement because there are just way too many maybes.