Trojan Nation may not want to hear it, but the Crimson Tide are favored by 10.5 points. In all aspects, No. 20 USC enters Saturday’s game as the underdog. The Trojans may not look at it in such a light, but they’re facing the No. 1 defending national champions in Alabama.
The Trojans aren’t used to being the underdog; they’re expected to win most games when they take the field, but maybe being the underdog against the Tide isn’t such a bad thing to be.
USC takes the field Saturday night with few expectations — which, if last season is taken into account, having a lot of expectations beforehand can be hard to match, especially when they aren’t met. The Thursday night 17-12 loss to Washington last year is just one example.
This game can go one of three ways for the Trojans: They lose handily as predicted, hang in and keep it close, or upset Alabama. Two of those options will bode well for USC. Obviously, getting blown out would be the worst case scenario. While a blow-out loss would be a demoralizing way to start the season, it would only damage the rest of the season if the team dwells on the loss. If it creates a domino effect on the rest of the season, head coach Clay Helton and his coaching staff’s legitimacy and legacy would be in jeopardy. It could also sway potential recruits, impacting the program for years to come. However, if they were to get blown out, the Trojans still have 11 more regular season games to make up for such a loss.
If the Trojans hang with the Tide — maybe even trading the lead back-and-forth — but still lose, they can focus on the positives aspects of the game and build on those moving forward. Even a close loss would exceed many people’s’ expectations — as Alabama is favored by more than 10 points.
Now, if USC manages to pull off the upset, that would shock the college football world. While the immediate shock would come from USC winning as the double-digit underdog, its foundation stems from polar opposite recent seasons for these two teams. The programs could not have a more opposite track record the last seven years.
Since 2009, Alabama has a record of 86-10 (with one 14-0 season), USC has a record of 61-31 (with only two 10-win seasons). The Crimson Tide have won three National Championships (two BCS, one CFB) and won two — the Capital One Bowl and Cotton Bowl — of four bowl games. The Trojans haven’t even won their conference yet alone a National Championship in that timespan, although they do have a 3-2 record in bowl games with wins in the Emerald Bowl, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl and Holiday Bowl.
There’s one more stat of notable importance. For Alabama, it’s an indicator of its consistency. For USC, it’s an indicator of its troubles. Nick Saban has been steadfast for Alabama, while Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkisian and Clay Helton have all coached the Trojans in the last six years.
The Trojans have the power to turn the tide if they leave the past behind them. A defining win against the top team in college football could set the Trojans on the course to reclaim their spot as one of the top programs in college football. It will take standout performances from returners like junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, junior cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and sophomore linebacker Cameron Smith along with some breakout performances from newcomers such as redshirt junior quarterback Max Browne, sophomore defensive tackle Noah Jefferson and freshman defensive end Oluwole Betiku.
Even though Alabama is favored by double digits, the game will probably be close — no more than a touchdown differential. Regardless, the outcome of the Cowboy Classic will shape the rest of the season for the Trojans, especially Helton’s legacy as head coach and USC as a program in the long run.
Jodee Storm Sullivan is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. Her column, “The Storm Report,” runs Tuesdays.