History is on USC’s side. Recent history, that is.
If anyone has learned anything from the trend of losses to inferior, unranked opponents, it’s this: One loss does not end a season. Usually.
Somehow, some way, a strange brew of events over the last three years seems to give one-loss USC a shot at getting back in the national title picture.
Last year was an odd case. The voters and computers and everything else determined that USC’s one loss was worse than Florida’s one loss.
That is, a loss on the road on a Thursday night against a good Oregon State team after a blowout win over another BCS contender was worse than a loss at home to a good Mississippi team.
Scheduling Virginia, Ohio State and Notre Dame in non-conference games apparently carries less weight than Hawaii, Miami, the Citadel and Florida State.
But I digress.
So, two out of the last three years, one loss didn’t end the Trojans’ season.
Three years ago, the 6-0 Trojans were teetering on the edge with each passing week. They beat three straight conference opponents by an average of 6.3 points before the wheels fell off in Corvallis with a 33-31 loss to Oregon State.
But that didn’t end USC’s title hopes.
No, the Trojans were back in the national title picture a few weeks later, and all they had to do was beat UCLA at their place.
13-9, and that was done. But it was the second loss — not the first — that did USC in.
What about the next year, 2007? A 4-0 USC team falls 24-23 at home to Stanford.
But with the rallying cry that one loss doesn’t decide USC’s fate, the Trojans rebound with a 20-13 victory over Arizona and a 38-0 drubbing of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., led by backup quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Only after the 24-17 loss in Eugene to Oregon were USC’s national title hopes officially laid to rest.
So how was this made possible? Let’s just say that ESPN’s college football motto is, “Every week can change the season.”
In 2006, being ranked in the top five was a curse. Texas, LSU, Notre Dame, Auburn (twice), Florida, USC (twice), West Virginia, Louisville, Michigan and Arkansas all lost in that position.
In 2007, more of the same. Appalachian State delivered the keynote address with its stunning victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Florida, Oklahoma (twice), West Virginia (twice), USC, Wisconsin, LSU (twice), Cal, South Florida, Boston College, Arizona State, Ohio State, Oregon, Kansas and Missouri all lost while ranked in the top five.
See where this is going? This year, the Trojans have already been joined by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the top-five-teams-that-get-upset category.
Yes, the Sooners lost because quarterback Sam Bradford was injured. But the Trojans were without Matt Barkley and Taylor Mays (if you ask me, one of the more underreported reasons for losing the game) in Seattle.
Injuries played a key role in 2007, when No. 2 Oregon went to Tucson in mid-November, only to see quarterback Dennis Dixon injure his knee and the Ducks’ national title hopes disappear.
Injuries happen; they’re the great equalizer. They’re impossible to predict, and often devastating.
That’s not to say that injuries will continue to play a significant role in this season’s title game chase, just that they might. They’ve happened before, and they can happen again.
So recent history is on USC’s side. But the history being written right now? Not so much.
The Trojans still have to run the gauntlet of ranked Pac-10 opponents on the road, which doesn’t even take into account the game in South Bend in a month.
They have to do with inexperience at quarterback, youth on defense (although that has yet to be an issue) and problems on special teams (which is a topic for an entire story itself).
So can it be done? Yes. The chips have been in place before. But will it be done? Let’s just say that a lot has to happen.
Luckily for USC, a lot has happened in the past.
“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Grant at email@example.com.