USC football’s 2008 squad should have won a national title

USC football could have won the 2008 championship. (Harry How/Getty Images
USC football could have won the 2008 championship. (Harry How/Getty Images /

USC football’s 2008 squad is one of the best to not win a national title.

In 2008, USC football should have won the national title. It’s that simple.

Those Trojans were arguably the best of the Pete Carroll era.

They had an outstanding defense, better than the title-winning squads of 2003 and 2004. They also had an exceptional offense.

The fact that they didn’t even get to play for a championship is a travesty which highlights the deficiencies of the BCS era.

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We’re not just saying that either. On Tuesday, Bill Connelly of ESPN released his list of the “top college football teams that failed to win the national championship” based on his SP+ advanced statistical rankings.

Wouldn’t you know, the 2008 squad warranted a mention:

"“This legitimately might have been the best team of the Carroll era. USC beat Notre Dame by 35, UCLA by 21 and Cal by 14. Taylor Mays, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing led a nearly perfect defense: USC allowed more than 10 points just three times. The Trojans played three teams that finished with nine-plus wins and beat them by a combined 117-37.”"

USC football would have benefited from a playoff

A few things stood in the way of USC and a fight for the national title.

First, the BCS selected just two teams to compete in the title game and the field of potential representatives in 2008 was ridiculous.

Oklahoma, Florida, USC and Penn State were all one-loss conference champions while Texas and Alabama were one-loss teams as well.

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The losses for each team and their respective SP+ rankings tell the tale.

No. 4 Oklahoma’s single loss was to No. 2 Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Texas’ loss came at No. 9 Texas Tech.

No. 5 Penn State was a last-second field goal at No. 6 Iowa away from a perfect record.

No. 3 Florida lost to No. 21 Ole Miss at home by one point. They handed No. 10 Alabama their only loss in the SEC title game.

No. 1 USC lost to No. 25 Oregon State on the road by six.

What people might forget is that the 2008 Oregon State squad was actually quite good. In fact, the Beavers during that portion of the Mike Riley era were downright solid. They went 9-4 on the back of a 9-4 season in 2007 and a 10-3 season in 2006.

It’s unfortunate one of USC football’s best-ever teams happened to land in one of the most competitive seasons in college football history particularly as it came in the least competition-friendly era of the sport.

As Connelly put it: “If a CFP had existed at the time, the Trojans might have benefited more than anyone.”

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In six seasons of the current playoff, the No. 1 seed has won the national championship just once. The No. 4 seed has prevailed twice and the No. 2 seed has won three times.

(Even if Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings when it mattered, had been selected as the No. 1 seed, and Florida as the No. 2, there would have been quite a bit of controversy around the final teams included in a four-team scenario. Would a committee have taken Texas and Alabama over USC and Penn State in an SEC vs. Big 12 playoff extravaganza? Given the biases of the potential selectors, that’s a hypothetical mess best left unexplored).

If USC was included in a playoff field, they would have won the title. Bet on that.

Sure, Oklahoma had the No. 1 offense in SP+, but USC’s defense ranked No. 2, higher than any other playoff contender. If Florida’s sixth-ranked defense could hold the Sooners to 14 points, the Trojans could have easily produced the same result. As they say, defense wins championships.

Nor was USC a slouch on offense. The Mark Sanchez-led offense ranked fifth in SP+, better than No. 7 Florida.

The Trojans even had a top-notch placekicker in David Buehler.

Even if you disagree with the opinion that USC would have romped through a playoff with that defense and that quarterback, the lack of a playoff in 2008 ultimately denied the potential of a Pete Carroll vs. Urban Meyer matchup. Or a Carroll vs. Mack Brown or Bob Stoops rematch.

It’s just a shame.

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