USC is 10-2. It holds the best record in the Pac-12 South. In the month of November, it finished 4-0, beating three bowl-eligible teams, as of now, by a combined margin of 170-69.
It’s only natural to ask: How good are these Trojans? Could they beat No. 1 LSU? Or No. 2 Alabama? If given a rematch, would they beat No. 6 Stanford, too?
We won’t know those answers. USC’s season ended — on Nov. 26. — in front of a sellout crowd at the Coliseum. And that’s that.
UCLA, not USC, will travel north to face Oregon in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game at Autzen Stadium. And yes, the Bruins just lost to the Trojans, 50-0.
Is it fair? Not exactly. Is it logical? Perhaps even less so.
“Yes, we should be going to play for the Pac-12 title,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said with a hint of disappointment.
But this type of finish was forecasted in August. The Trojans, serving the second year of a two-year postseason ban, were ineligible for the conference championship game, as well as any bowl game.
That doesn’t make the outcome any less aggravating for fans, or players, or coaches.
USC, a top-10 team, will — as coach Lane Kiffin noted during the post-game press conference — get plenty of “family time” over the next month, now.
Yet, in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, the source of frustration, at least as of now, for many Trojan fans seems to lie with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.
A number of cardinal-and-gold backers have taken to the Internet, chastising Scott on a variety of platforms for seemingly barring the Trojans from the first-ever title game. The frustration makes sense. Two teams USC defeated will square off next Friday, and to add insult to injury, a conference official told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that USC can claim first in the South division but it cannot call itself a champion or a co-champion.
Though the second part might still remain a point of contention for many, especially as a number of USC players sported Pac-12 South championship T-shirts in the aftermath of Saturday’s rout, it’s hard to fault the conference entirely.
You can argue Scott should have done more in lobbying the NCAA Infractions Appeal Committee to lift the second year of the bowl ban, sure. In fact, I’d probably say he should have. But once the Trojans’ fate was sealed — its appeal was rejected last May — Scott’s hand was also forced. The options were limited. His hands were tied.
Say USC were to face Oregon on Friday, and in fact take home the conference crown, beating the Ducks for the second time this season. Would that scenario be any less embarrassing for the Pac-12 than sending a hapless UCLA team north? Not necessarily. In several respects, it’d be far more damaging PR-wise: the Pac-12 champion prevented from going to the Rose Bowl. Is that any better?
The fate of the 2011 USC team will always be unbefitting. That’s more than evident now, and will remain so as the years progress.
But Larry Scott was never the source of that — Pac-12 title game or not. At this point, that’s just semantics.
At the end of the day, a nine-person NCAA infractions committee, in June 2010, held the cards and they made sure USC stayed home this winter — for violations committed in 2004 and 2005.