USC football’s realistic bowl hopes wilted away in loss to 3-8 UCLA

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

USC football’s loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday put Clay Helton’s Trojans in serious jeopardy of not being bowl eligible, despite a team loaded with talent.

If you told someone last December that Clay Helton’s 2018 USC football team would be on the verge of missing a bowl after allowing 289 yards to a running back recruited by UC Davis, no one would’ve believed you. The most cynical message boarder in a fanbase overloaded with self-righteous pessimism would’ve scoffed at it.

How could a team with this much talent and that soft of a schedule in a weak Pac-12 be in need of a miracle against playoff-bound and undefeated Notre Dame just to get to a bowl game.

They won a Rose Bowl, a Pac-12 championship and secured two Top 5 recruiting classes in the last 22 months. The 2017 struggle-wins be damned, having a sub-.500 record should’ve been unimaginable then and now.

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But after another meltdown, losing 34-27 to a UCLA Bruins team that had no business outclassing a team of USC’s pedigree, it all makes sense.

They don’t deserve a bowl.

In a year without a highlight and a season without a standout player, the team playing America’s most fun sport found a way to put together a campaign without a feel-good moment. In turn, they won’t get a chance to play for even the semblance of a happy ending. Instead, they’re slated to be shamed by an 11-0 Notre Dame that just thrashed No. 12 Syracuse 36-3.

Saturday afternoon once again featured all the excruciating hallmarks of the Trojans’ disastrous season. They couldn’t finish off drives, relied solely on their talented receivers to win 50-50 battles, blew a lead, gave up big plays, made poor reads and triggered a litany of Fire Helton! remarks on social media.

“I know the job,” Helton said after losing to UCLA. “The job is you win, people are going to pat you on the back. If you lose, they’re going to get after you.”

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

It couldn’t be more true, as USC lost their sixth regular season game for the first time since 2000, the last year they failed to be bowl eligible without the help of sanctions. Paul Hackett was shown the door then. The onus now is on athletic director Lynn Swann to stop the bleeding.

Under normal circumstances, a season this embarrassing should end in a firing. But things are complicated.

Can an AD at a school without a president —not to mention a school under scrutiny for several scandals— even have the go ahead from the USC Board of Trustees to mercifully pull the plug?

“That’s a great question for Mr. Swann,” Helton said. “Out of respect to him, I’ll let you ask him that. As I said earlier this week, I feel tremendous support from Mr. Swann and what we are doing here, and thank him for being with me every step of the way.”

If he’s right, the Helton Era could be like that of Hackett in more ways than one: Hackett had to fail to get USC bowl eligible twice before he was fired.

But the jury’s still out on what college football did to deserve being subjected to these kind of USC performances, so let’s not tempt fate, eh?