By now, you’ve likely heard a pundit mention that one team or another controls its own destiny.
Just what does it need to do? Run the table.
This is college football speak. This has been uttered before. This is hackneyed. But this also pertains to USC.
What this means is: If a team can win a certain number of its remaining games, it directly influences the outcome of the bowl game it plays in.
Take, for example, No. 1 Alabama. Should the Crimson Tide win the remainder of its games, it would finish the regular season atop the BCS standings, securing a bid to the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami. Thus, by merely winning, it controls its own destiny, so to speak. Other factors don’t come into play.
In August, USC, in fact, controlled its own destiny, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press’ preseason top-25 poll and No. 3 in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Its path to the title game was largely predicated on its own results. If it kept winning, it would have remained near the top of the standings. That was that.
But the Trojans lost the chance on Sept. 15 when they were undone by rival Stanford in Palo Alto, 21-14.
Roughly three weeks since the Bay Area nightmare, USC, which now carries a modest two-game winning streak after victories over California and Utah, has repositioned itself in the national title race. It might not control its own destiny like it once did two months ago, but to say it’s out of the picture would be a gross understatement. If anything, it’s positioned quite well, thanks to a handful of recent events.
The Trojans moved up three spots to No. 9 in the coaches’ poll after a wild Saturday in which three of the nation’s top-five teams lost in a single weekend for the first time since 2002.
Three teams, all previously unbeaten, have seemingly fallen out of the title race for the time being, which naturally helps USC coach Lane Kiffin and Co. as they look to inch toward the top of the rankings again.
“It’s the same thing as when we go the other direction,” Kiffin said following practice Sunday. “It’s out of our control, so we don’t worry about it, don’t pay attention to it. There’s a lot of football left, and as we all know, every week changes.”
But here’s what they can control: winning — and winning certain games.
On Nov. 3, USC will face Oregon at the Coliseum, and on Nov. 24, it’ll host Notre Dame as well. The Ducks and the Fighting Irish are undefeated and ranked No. 2 and No. 7 in the coaches’ poll, respectively. Not to mention both are ranked highly in the BCS computers: Oregon is No. 1 in the Billingsley rankings and Notre Dame stands at No. 1 in Wes Colley’s Matrix — two of the six computer ratings used as part of the BCS formula.
Wins over either school will catapult USC further up the standings, especially considering the impact such wins will have on the Trojans’ strength of schedule.
It doesn’t stop there, either.
Should USC win out — hardly a given but certainly a possibility — it would likely be the highest-ranked one-loss team. That matters: One-loss teams, after all, have crashed the BCS party before.
One-loss Alabama secured a berth in the BCS title game last season, slipping past one-loss (but Big 12 champion) Oklahoma State even after failing to win the SEC. In fact, over the last five seasons, five of the 10 teams to secure a national championship bid have had at least one loss, including both teams in the 2007 and 2008 title games.
This will all be rendered meaningless should USC lose again — distinctly possible considering the teams remaining on its slate, as well as the likelihood of facing Oregon for a second time in the Pac-12 championship game.
But say the team does finish business and post a 12-1 overall mark once the regular season comes to a close. It’s tough not to imagine USC in the middle of the BCS chase, just like old times.
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