USC Football deserves credit for toughest schedule strength in AP Top 25

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

It’s time to give USC Football credit for playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, posting the best record of any team with a similar slate.

Seven games into the 2017 season, USC Football has not exactly lived up to expectations. Many fans are dissatisfied. Voters in the AP and Coaches polls have not been particularly impressed. And questions still hover over what Clay Helton and company can and can’t achieve at USC in 2017 and beyond.

It’s true that USC has not been the most impressive team in college football. The Trojans have won games by an average margin of 10.7 points. Injury-prone and turnover-prone, the men of Troy have not reached their ceiling thus far.

Despite the obvious struggles for Helton’s team, USC does have a strong explanation for their lack of blowout wins—the level of difficulty for the Trojans has been consistently higher than most teams.

No one in the Top 25 rankings has played a tougher schedule than USC.

No one in the Top 25 rankings has played a tougher schedule than USC. The Trojans rank 10th in Sagarin schedule strength rankings. Clemson and Oklahoma have better wins. Ohio State and Oklahoma State have a better loss. None of them have faced as difficult a slate, week in and week out.

The average strength of schedule ranking for teams currently ranked in the AP Top 10? 38.5.

Only Clemson can match the Trojans’ mark of six wins while facing a strength of schedule in the Top 20. The Tigers rank 20th.

USC has faced five teams with winning records in seven weeks. Texas, a team with a 3-3 record, isn’t among those, but still ranks 40th in S&P+. In fact, the Trojans have played four teams ranking in the Top 40 of S&P+ rankings. Only Oregon State stands out as a non-competitive opponent in 2017.

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For comparison, No. 10 Oklahoma State is averaging a margin of 23.7 points in their favor this season. But they have played just two teams with winning records, going 1-1 in those games. Four of their opponents rank 94th or worse in S&P+. Oregon State is the only team on USC’s schedule which meets that criteria.

The Trojans can have few complaints about undefeated teams outranking them, but it is still worth pointing out that USC has played three teams ranked higher than Penn State’s top-ranked S&P+ opponent, No. 38 Iowa. The Nittany Lions won that game by two points.

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Meanwhile Wisconsin’s highest ranked opponent of the season is No. 55 Purdue, who they bested 17-9.

That’s not to say USC should be ranked ahead of any of those teams. Nor does it excuse the Trojans’ sloppy play in 2017. It simply helps to demonstrate why USC has found it so hard at times this season.

Why does it matter that USC has faced such an uphill battle? Because the Trojans emerged from it with a respectable 6-1 record. They’re preparing to crest the hill this week with their toughest test yet, a road trip to face No. 13 Notre Dame.

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How they perform in that rivalry tilt will go a long way towards either gaining respect from the college football world or confirming that USC’s flaws go beyond just a tough schedule.