How USC Football Can Still Go To The Rose Bowl

Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; General view of the Rose Bowl before the game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Stanford Cardinal in the 2016 Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; General view of the Rose Bowl before the game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Stanford Cardinal in the 2016 Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

USC football’s hopes of competing for the Pac-12 Championship were dashed on Saturday, but the Trojans still have a good chance of playing in the Rose Bowl.

Coming into the final week of the 2016 regular season, USC still had the ability to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl by winning the Pac-12 Championship outright.

However, with Colorado’s win over Utah, the Buffaloes claimed the spot in the conference title game, leaving the Trojans on the outside looking in.

That doesn’t mean that USC’s hopes of competing in Rose Bowl were completely snuffed on Saturday. The Trojans are still very much in the hunt for that bowl spot.

First things first. Mapping out a scenario where USC claims a Rose Bowl berth begins and ends with the result of the Pac-12 Championship game between Colorado and Washington.

If Colorado wins the conference title, either the Buffaloes will play in the Rose Bowl or they will sneak into the playoff and send the Huskies to the Rose Bowl. That won’t work for USC.

The Trojans need Washington to claim the Pac-12 title and advance to the College Football Playoff, opening up an at-large selection in the Granddaddy Of Them All.

So let’s assume that happens. Oddsmakers have set UW as a seven-point favorite over Colorado, so the probability is in USC’s favor.

In that scenario, the open place in the Rose Bowl would be decided by ranking in the College Football Playoff — the highest placed Pac-12 squad will go to Pasadena.

The question to sort out is whether or not that highest-ranked team will be 9-3 USC or 10-3 Colorado.

That’s where another thing working in USC’s favor comes into play — the Trojans are ranked behind the Buffaloes right now, but they are close enough reap the benefits of a Colorado loss.

The newest College Football Playoff rankings will not be released until Tuesday, but USC entered the weekend ranked No. 12 in the playoff poll, with two teams separating them from No. 9 Colorado — Louisville and Oklahoma State.

The Cardinals lost to Kentucky this week, closing the gap between the Trojans and the Buffaloes.

As for the Cowboys, it’s complicated, but the Big 12 Championship game between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma should further eliminate the gap. Should the Sooners win, OK State will no doubt drop out of out of any conversation involving the merits of USC and Colorado. Should the Cowboys beat Oklahoma, they would add a quality win and would surely outranked either of the three-loss Pac-12 squads.

So when it comes down to it, the College Football Playoff committee will be tasked with ranking USC and Colorado relative to each other, figuring out just how far the Buffaloes deserve to drop and deciding the Rose Bowl berth in the process.

Putting the resumes of the Trojans and Buffaloes side-by-side, there is a strong argument for the committee to value USC’s over Colorado’s.

First, here’s the argument for Colorado:

The Buffaloes won the division. They played an extra game, giving them a third loss while still holding an extra win compared to the Trojans.

Their three losses are exceptionally strong, with Michigan, USC and finally Washington all ranking in or near the Top 10 — two of those losses involved an injured Sefo Liufau.

Colorado lacks exceptionally quality wins, but they have beaten four teams with winning records this season, including teams USC lost to like Stanford and Utah.

On the other side of things, USC’s argument is strong as well:

The Trojans’ three losses are also quite strong, coming against the nation’s undisputed No. 1 team, ranked Stanford on the road and ranked Utah on the road and on short rest.

USC is considered one of the hottest teams in the country, having made a quarterback change and playing like a completely different team since then, handily beating everyone in their path.

Moreover, the Trojans boast better quality wins than the Buffaloes. They beat Colorado head-to-head and bested playoff-bound Washington on the road.

Plus, advanced statistics favor the Trojans, who currently rank No. 8 in S&P+ compared to the Buffaloes at No. 15.

In the end, it’s the head-to-head which may sway the committee. Or at least, that’s what USC fans should hope guides the committee’s decision.

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If it does and they opt to drop the Buffaloes behind the Trojans in the poll, then USC’s incredible turnaround will have the ending it probably deserves.

Though they fell to 1-3 and appeared dead in the water, USC fought back, improving every week. They avoided playing down to lesser opposition, sidestepped traps against rivals and outplayed the likes of Colorado and Washington for impressive victories.

Whatever happens, it’s not a question of whether or not the Trojans deserve to test their mettle one last time by playing in the Rose Bowl against quality opposition from the Big 10. It’s just a question of whether or not they’ll get the chance.

USC can only sit back and watch as things unfold.