Life’s three guarantees are death, taxes and USC football playing a loaded non-conference schedule. The 2017 season isn’t any different.
The 2017 USC Football schedule is a mixed bag for the Trojans, who finished this past season ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll.
While they won’t have a bye week and travel to Washington State on short rest, they miss out on Washington while both UCLA and Utah travel to Seattle.
Plus, they’ll face an equally unrested Colorado team in November and won’t have to travel to their personal house of horrors, Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
All things considered, if USC doesn’t win the Pac-12 South, they’ll likely only have themselves to blame.
But as for their playoff aspirations? It could come down to non-conference scheduling. ESPN has ranked the toughest and easiest schedules of the bunch this week, with some interesting USC story lines at play.
Lo and behold, both of the Trojans’ biggest threats to winning the Pac-12 –Washington and Colorado– rank with the two easiest non-conference schedules among Power 5 teams.
While the Huskies play at Rutgers before hosting FCS Montana and Fresno State, the Buffaloes will welcome Texas State and FCS Northern Colorado, in addition to their annual rivalry game with Colorado State at Mile High. They both should roll to 3-0 starts.
Inversely, the Worldwide Leader puts USC’s non-conference slate of Western Michigan, Texas and at Notre Dame as the nation’s fifth toughest.
It’s a drop in class from playing Alabama in Week 1 last season, and the Trojans are fortunate to get Cotton Bowl loser WMU after the departure of P.J. Fleck and stud receiver Corey Davis. But a Tom Herman Texas team and a trip to South Bend aren’t automatic wins like UW or CU will encounter.
And while USC’s most direct path to getting to the College Football Playoff is by simply winning the Pac-12 and hoping for the best, the wacky 2016 season proved that conference titles aren’t the be-all and end-all.
Ohio State made the playoff despite not even winning their own division.
Penn State, who the Trojans beat in a scintillating Rose Bowl, missed out of the Playoff because they opted to play at Pitt (and lose), instead of hosting [insert lowly MAC team here].
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Then there’s Oklahoma, a 10-2 team who didn’t make the Playoff because they lost to a pair of non-conference foes: Ohio State and Houston.
Washington, who did make the Playoff as the No. 4 seed, did so with a notoriously easy non-conference schedule. Had they swapped with USC and lost to Alabama in Week 1 instead, maybe the Trojans would’ve wound up in Atlanta.
There’s a lot of ifs there.
But the most important is if USC takes care of their own business in 2017, they won’t need to worry about any ifs.
To do that, they’ll have to cut their teeth by heading down one of the country’s most difficult paths.