Can USC football manage a 6-0 start? ESPN’s FPI projections say absolutely yes

USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

USC football absolutely should be able to pull off a 6-0 start to the 2020 season.

The toughest part about evaluating USC football expectations is balancing what should be achievable with what is likely.

You might be skeptical of Clay Helton’s ability to guide his team to the strongest record possible. That shouldn’t stop you from acknowledging what the Trojans should be capable of posting in terms of win-loss record.

The latest release of ESPN FPI projections should put USC on notice: A 6-0 start isn’t just possible, it’s worth demanding.

ESPN FPI favors USC football in nine of 10 games for 2020.

It’s not just that FPI thinks USC should win all but one game. It’s the certainty of those percentages.

Here is how FPI projects the season:

  • 81.% chance to win at UCLA
  • 85.6% vs. Cal
  • 68.1% at Stanford
  • 93.9% vs. Colorado
  • 80.9% at Arizona
  • 92.4% vs. Washington State
  • 31.0% at Oregon
  • 88.9% vs. Arizona State
  • 60.9% at Utah
  • 80.4% vs. Washington.

The projections confirm what everyone knew from the start: USC doesn’t have much of a chance against Oregon.

But the rest of those predictions? There aren’t exactly a lot of toss-ups there.

A tough road to trip to Utah is the only game approaching a coin flip, and that’s still above 60 percent in the win projection.

The rest of the schedule warrants the occasional use of the Blinking Guy GIF. FPI’s perception of threats on the slate is far different than fans and media might have seen themselves.

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The expected difficult home game against ASU, with potential Pac-12 South title implications, suddenly looks like a cakewalk. We’ll see about that one.

The season finale against Washington has a nearly identical win percentage as the road game against Arizona, a team USC is expected to blow out.

UCLA is more of a threat than Cal? Stanford is a greater challenge than both? Washington State isn’t a challenge at all?

That’s what the numbers say at least.

The numbers are fallible. If they weren’t USC would have won many more games in the last few seasons than they have. Still, they go to show just how much vulnerability exists for teams on the slate.

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With that in mind, it’s completely reasonable to look at the first six games on the slate and expect an undefeated run.

If any of those teams outperform their projections, USC should outpace them if the coaching is good enough and the players are motivated enough.

Sure,  it’s easier said than done, but no one said living up to expectations was easy. A 6-0 record definitely looks easier than expected under this umbrella though.

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