It’s no secret that brand names drive TV ratings in sports. The NFL, the NBA and college football are all the same in this regard: Big names sell tickets and draw attention. As legendary as Boise State’s victory over Oklahoma was in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, it was also one of the lowest-rated games of that entire bowl season — Not due to a lack of excitement, but because Boise State doesn’t drum up the same interest from a casual fan as a team such as USC or Notre Dame would.
The same goes for the Rose Bowl. Hardcore football fans aside, TCU facing off against Wisconsin doesn’t really get the blood pumping the same way a USC-Michigan matchup might. This all serves to underscore the point that college football is generally better when storied programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC are all competitive.
Unfortunately, over the last 15 years there has not been a period where all five of these schools, as well as other national brands such as Texas, Michigan and Nebraska, have all been elite programs. The teams that have been good — Alabama and Ohio State — carried the quality of college football last year. Their dominance on the gridiron happened to coincide with one of the greatest back-to-back game sequences in recent history: Ohio State’s 43-42 victory over Michigan followed up by Auburn’s last-second heroic upset over Alabama.
Most of college football follows this model. The Red River Shootout is best when both Oklahoma and Texas are formidable squads. Recently, the games have been one-sided affairs without true national championship implications. The same can be said about the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh between Notre Dame and USC. Only once in the last 15 years has the game had national title implications for both teams. That game ended in glorious fashion, with the famous (or infamous) Bush Push sealing a USC victory.
These are the types of games that go down in college football history, and cement these programs’ legacies in the pantheon of powerhouse college football programs. Yet the BCS era suffered from a roller coaster ride for most of these teams. No single program has been able to maintain national relevance the entire time, and college football has suffered.
The transformation to a new playoff system might also mark a return to dominance for most, if not all, of these schools. They are now equipped with hefty TV contracts, talented recruiters and coaches, and are oozing with elite talent. The excitement is building, and it looks as if the next few years will mark the beginning of a possible golden age for college football.
Take USC for example. Even before the departure of Pete Carroll and the draconian sanctions levied by the NCAA, USC was trending toward obscurity. After Mark Sanchez left a possible national championship on the table when he declared for the draft, USC regressed with freshman Matt Barkley at the helm. That season ended on a dreary night pre-New Year’s in a fairly vacant AT&T Park in San Francisco at the Emerald Bowl.
For one of the premier programs in all of sports, playing before New Year’s in a sponsored bowl doesn’t exactly evoke memories of Howard Jones or John McKay. Since that point, the Trojans have been better known nationally for off-the-field issues than on-the-field success. Only once, during a six week period in Matt Barkley’s junior season, did USC’s play generate excitement and buzz around the program and nationally as well. For that short period, USC was “USC” again. Barkley’s announcement was telecasted live on ESPN, and analysts were in frenzy when he announced his intentions to return for his senior season.
Besides that, USC has made the news primarily when footballs mysteriously deflate, jerseys switch mid-game, 5-star recruits decommit, or coaches are fired in airport hangars. All of that looks to become a distant memory under the new reign of Sarkisian and company. If Saturday’s spring game was any indication, there is palpable electricity within the program once again.
The excitement certainly isn’t at the level of national championship teams of the mid 2000’s, but there is a quicker, more frenetic pace to this team. Sure, some might worry about how spring practice and the game showcased an offense struggling with a new system. Given an offseason of work, however, the players will surely gain familiarity and comfort with the up-tempo attack.
The defense is once again in attack mode, with aggressive defenders at every level emerging into legitimate ball hawks. Though it would be foolish to extrapolate too much from the spring session, it does appear that the Trojan team is back on the right track. Coach Steve Sarkisian seem to understand the intangibles that go along with the X’s and O’s of football: meeting with boosters and being friendly with the press.
It might not happen overnight, but soon enough the Trojans will be at the top of the polls again. They will once again be relevant for the right reasons: victories and historic rivalries. It is good for the Pac-12 and good for college football as other top teams also make the climb back up with USC. It might sound like an obnoxious elitist fan’s claim, but when USC and others are good, college football is just that much better.
Jake Davidson is a freshman majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs every other Monday. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com or email Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org.