Conference championship Saturday has come and gone. The BCS selection show came and went. What did both of these television programs have in common?
Neither of them involved USC.
If you had told me when the season began that USC would be playing Georgia Tech in a bowl game, I’d have guessed the Trojans got a BCS at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl or the Orange Bowl and that Georgia Tech had a breakout season.
The Sun Bowl? Against a 6-7 Yellow Jackets squad that had to petition for bowl eligibility?
It’s not exactly what anyone expected.
No, everyone in this area of Los Angeles had dreams of flying to Miami or, at the very least, playing in the Rose Bowl with the hometown fans yelling at the top of their lungs.
But it was not to be.
For a number of reasons, including but not limited to poor defensive lapses, inopportune turnovers and a tough schedule, the Trojans limped to a 7-5 season. It has been a year where many, including myself, have asked, “How could a team this talented fall flat on its face?” In fact, I’m still wondering.
But when all is said and done and the Trojans take the field in El Paso, Texas, I can honestly say the season won’t have been a waste. Disappointing? Absolutely. I thought this team would finish 11-1 or 10-2 at the worst. I’m not much of a flyer, either, so flying out to Texas isn’t really my idea of a vacation, to be honest.
Given USC is coming off sanctions that prohibited them from going to a bowl during the last two seasons, going to the Sun Bowl isn’t so bad. For the first time since 2009, senior quarterback Matt Barkley gets to play a game after the first week of December. Sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee can add to his incredible receiving totals and dazzle us with more highlight reel plays.
But more importantly, USC is once again relevant. Some schools dream of going to a bowl game — any bowl game. I watched Pittsburgh take on South Florida yesterday, in a game where Pitt was fighting for that elusive sixth win. I’m sure Auburn, who won the national title in 2010 and went 3-9 this season, would have given anything to go to a bowl game. Schools like Kent State haven’t been to a bowl game since the 1970s.
I know USC fans are upset, but in the grand scheme of things, the fact the Trojans are even playing in the postseason is wonderful, especially given the NCAA penalties that have made it tough to practice and put together a deep roster. Things looked oh-so-dark for what seemed like an eternity. Would USC ever be eligible? It seemed like it would be decades until the 2012 season came.
Now we’re here. And after two years that saw fans agonize during bowl week and cheer vicariously through other teams, a berth in the Sun Bowl is pretty darn good. It’s something. It’s what USC fans have wanted for two years, even if they didn’t know it.
Last season, USC’s 10-2 record got them nowhere (except a lot of preseason hype and All-American honors). Everyone wondered how good the team actually was. Could they compete with Alabama? With LSU?
We never found out.
This team went 7-5. We know how good this USC team is: It is good enough to play in a mid-level bowl game. There will be no more questions; 2012 USC is good enough to play in the postseason in a non-BCS game. And that’s OK.
Playing in a bowl game is a privilege many teams have never experienced and might not for many years. As students, we rightly or wrongly expect the squad to walk into the Rose Bowl every New Year’s day and take on a Big Ten team. But it doesn’t really work like that, does it?
There can only be one national champion and one national championship game. There are 34 bowl games. Does that mean the other 33 bowls are worthless? Absolutely not. Only one team gets to hoist a crystal trophy, after all. But bowl season gets teams motivated. It allows fans one more chance to put on their school colors and cheer (or heckle).
It’s upsetting to many that it isn’t USC that will be holding the trophy. But given where USC has been in the last few years, any bowl game is a welcome sight. It will be welcomed. The players will be excited. People will surely watch. Barkley will likely get his swan song.
Surely, there will be “what ifs” about the 2012 Trojans. There were a lot of games that ended so closely. They could have beaten Stanford or Arizona or even Notre Dame. But they didn’t. And USC’s record and bowl game indicate this.
We have closure. We know exactly where USC stands. They will be playing in the Sun Bowl. And if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the postseason, after all.
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