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USC football: Imagining a CFB Playoff game vs. Georgia, JT Daniels

Jan 8, 2021, 9:00 AM EST
JT Daniels
Former USC football QB, JT Daniels | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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After a season that was as strange as it was short, USC football seems to be on the upswing despite the unexpected loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. So why not look to a possible fun matchup in the 2021 postseason?

Specifically, the Trojans meeting up with former favorite son JT Daniels and the Georgia Bulldogs in either of the 2021-22 College Football Playoff games -- the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl -- or (holds breath) maybe even the Championship Game in Indianapolis.

JT Daniels and Kedon Slovis -- two Heisman hopefuls, two quarterbacks trying to lead their team to a championship. One a former USC blue-chip player, the other an overlooked recruit who stepped in and put the Trojans on his back when they needed it most.

Daniels, who has already announced he's returning to play at Georgia next season, has the Bulldogs thinking SEC titles and playoff berths once again. Slovis, who is already getting Heisman whispers for next season, has USC football fans believing once again. Once teammates, they could meet head-to-head for the first and only time in their college careers on the biggest college football stage of all.

USC football has a positive but short history against Georgia

If you're wondering why you don't know much about the USC-Georgia rivalry, that's because there really isn't one. The two teams have only met three times in the histories of their programs, the last time in 1960. The good news? USC is 3-0 against the Bulldogs, including two shutouts (not that you can glean much from games that happened in 1931 and 1933).

The first game between these opposite coast blue-bloods was on December 12, 1931, where the national champion Trojans thrashed the Dawgs 60-0 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Two years later, on December 2, 1933, it was USC again blanking the Bulldogs 31-0 at the Coliseum. The last meeting, on October 7, 1960, Georgia finally managed to put up a few points against USC in a 10-3 Trojans win.

So while it's been over 60 years since they last met, USC carries all the bragging rights in the series. But none of that would matter should these two powerhouses lock up next season.

Can USC football break the playoff streak for the Pac-12?

The last time the Pac-12 received a gold-embossed invitation to the College Football Playoff was in 2016 when the Washington Huskies represented the conference in a 24-7 mashing by the eventual national runner-up, Alabama. Since then the Pac-12 has been absent from the postseason party to decide a national champion.

Could USC break that curse in 2021? It's quite possible. Even in the shortened, weirdly scheduled season that was 2020, we saw a lot of promise from the Trojans. They were a team who refused to quit, fashioning stunning comeback wins in three of their five regular-season wins. Given more practice time, more actual game experience, and more work together as a team, this USC squad could have been something very special in a normal year, and still could be in 2021.

The return of quarterback Kedon Slovis is the first piece of the puzzle, and given his return, USC fans should feel confident that the quarterback position is well tended to.

USC could be looking for a new offensive coordinator with current OC Graham Harrell in the mix for some high-profile head coaching jobs, including Boise State. Should Harrell leave, his successor will have plenty of talent to work with. The Trojans proved they have the ability to both score quickly and sustain drives when needed. If Harrell stays, he will need to prove he can better incorporate the run into the offense.

A big factor in how far the Trojans go in 2021 will be the defense and bringing that struggling unit to a place where fourth-quarter comebacks won't be needed quite as often. Second-year defensive coordinator Todd Orlando seems to have things moving in the right direction with big improvements in the numbers over 2019, moving from 96th to 43rd nationally in pass defense, 72nd to 49th in run defense, and 77th to 40th in total defense.

What a potential USC-Georgia playoff matchup brings

Beyond the obvious fantastic storyline of former teammates and current Heisman hopefuls going head-to-head with each other, the novelty of playing Georgia -- a top SEC team -- would bring the eyes of not only fans but also recruits who might not otherwise consider coming to USC.

Much like Georgia's recent games with Notre Dame -- a team who they had only played once prior to the meetings in 2017 and 2019 -- a game against an opponent who they hadn't faced in six decades would be an opportunity for USC fans to show they are just as passionate as well-traveled SEC fans.

A USC win over a premier team like Georgia would also be a boost for the Pac-12, who as a conference are suffering under a narrative that the football programs are at the bottom rung of the Power-5. Like it or not, the SEC is the leader when it comes to college football and knocking off one of their best teams would not only be a feather in USC's cap, but the Pac-12 as a whole.

If it were to happen -- in a semifinal or in the national championship game -- a game against the Georgia Bulldogs and JT Daniels would be one of the most-watched and most talked about games USC has played in many years.

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