USC football: Have the Trojans been overrated in the 2010s?

USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Just how overrated has USC football been this century? Figures from the Pete Carroll era are more favorable than the last decade of poll performance.

If you’re a USC football fan, you’ve no doubt heard the accusation: USC is always overrated.

Some might dismiss it as rivalry banter. Others might even agree, based on the Trojans most recent disappointments under Clay Helton.

But is it true?

This week Connor O’Gara put together some interesting information for Saturday Down South exploring the idea.

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What he found may not totally jibe with perceptions that USC is constantly overrated compared to other teams.

He found that among teams with at least seven preseason Top 25 appearances, the Trojans are actually on the lower end of underachievers. They finished worse than they started 56 percent of the time. That’s 22nd out of 29 other teams. Only Ohio State, Auburn, Wisconsin, Oregon, Penn State, Alabama, and Clemson had a lower percentage. Clemson was the only team below 50 percent.

But that was a span covering the last 20 years, including the uber-successful Pete Carroll era. What about the last decade?

Things haven’t been particularly great.

2019: NR → NR2018: 15 → NR2017: 4 → 122016: 20 → 32015: 8 → NR2014: 15 → 202013: 24 → 192012: 1 → NR2011: 25 → 62010: 14 → NR

In six out of 10 seasons, USC finished worse off in the polls than they started by an average of 3.5 spots. That average is heavily skewed by the wide range in over and underachievement.

In 2018, 2015, 2012, and 2010, USC finished 10 or more places lower than they started.

In 2016 and 2011, they were 17 and 19 spots better by season’s end, respectively.

It’s that kind of varied performance feeding the idea of USC being overrated. The Trojans are so very rarely ranked right on the money. They either vastly exceed expectations or majorly fail to live up to the hype.

Not that the Trojans are unique.

Only once in the last 10 years has UCLA outperformed their preseason ranking. Washington and Stanford have done it twice. Notre Dame managed three while Oregon did it four times, same as USC.

Every program seems to do their share of underachieving. USC’s problem isn’t how often they fall into that pit, but just how far they seem to fall.

Only time will tell if the 2020 season will start the next decade off in a positive direction.

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