Is it really that absurd to argue that USC still has a shot at the national title?
Let me explain.
Of the top 10 teams in the preseason Associated Press poll, only five have escaped the first three weeks unscathed. First Virginia Tech and Oklahoma fell, then Oklahoma State and Ohio State, and now USC.
So Florida and Texas are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the latest AP poll — and, well, they have been all season. But what have they done to deserve that ranking?
The Gators have three wins, but their first two games were incredible cupcakes. In my book, playing Charleston Southern and Troy don’t even count. In its first semblance of a test — at home against a Tennessee team that won five games last season — Florida eked out a 23-13 win. (By the way, did you see that Eric Berry-Tim Tebow collision? Ridiculous.)
Florida — as good as its defense is and all — has obvious holes. The Gators’ passing game is weak. Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin are gone and Tebow’s 2009 targets include the illustrious Riley Cooper and Cade Holliday. Pretty much the only legitimate pass catcher that Florida has is junior tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Tennessee’s defense essentially shut down the Gators through the air on Saturday.
Texas? Its first two games weren’t any tougher, and the Longhorns struggled to beat Texas Tech last weekend.
Their running game isn’t overly impressive and senior quarterback Colt McCoy has four interceptions already. The Longhorns’ interior defensive line is adequate at best.
A rebuilding Texas Tech team, featuring a quarterback making his first career road start, put up a fight — in Austin, no less.
If there were ever a year in which USC could recover from an early-season loss, this would be the one.
Let’s take a look at the other preseason top-10 teams that haven’t lost yet. They all have their weaknesses.
No. 3 Alabama snuck by then-No. 7 Virginia Tech in Week 1 in a mistake-ridden performance on both sides. The Crimson Tide have a first-year starter at quarterback and two top-10 matchups on their schedule — at No. 4 Ole Miss on Oct. 10 and at home against No. 7 LSU on Nov. 7.
Speaking of which — Ole Miss at No. 4? Come on, that win over Florida last season is the only reason the Rebels are ranked this high. Houston Nutt is still the coach in Oxford, and you can bet anything they will lose at least one SEC game.
No. 5 Penn State isn’t any better than they were last season, and we all know what happened in 2008. There was a tussle of sorts between the Trojans and the Nittany Lions in January, and USC came out on top. Since then — well, let me quote the Penn State student radio station: “If lined up against the 2008 Penn State Nittany Lions, this year’s squad would appear far inferior.”
And what does this go to show?
If USC wins out, I’d put its odds at 50-50 to be in the Rose Bowl.
And not the Pac-10 versus Big Ten Rose Bowl, but the real this-year-it’s-the-national-championship-game Rose Bowl.
It comes down to this: One SEC team will be in the national championship game, whether that be Florida, Alabama or another hard-nosed squad that gets on some type of roll late in the season. The Big-12 champion — read Texas — is expected to fill the other spot. Of course, if the Longhorns win out, they’re in.
But if they don’t — and they’ve got a tough three-week stretch in October of away games at Missouri and No. 16 Oklahoma State along with a home date against Oklahoma — that opens the door for either Cal, USC or a one of few other schools.
I know what you’re thinking.
The way USC played on Saturday, I doubt they’ll come close to winning out.
True. But the same can be said of any national title contender after one of the weeks this year.
Florida would have been killed by a legitimate SEC team on Saturday.
Last year’s Texas Tech team could have beat this year’s Texas team. Alabama would have lost to Virginia Tech team if they were in better shape. Penn State hasn’t played anyone of remote value. LSU nearly lost to a team on a 14-game losing streak.
This is the year of the faulty contender. USC needs to take advantage of that. It starts with a trip up to Cal next week. If the Trojans win that, they’ll put themselves into position to be the second-choice team to fill up the national championship game.
Not that bad, eh? Hold your head up, USC.
“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Pedro at firstname.lastname@example.org.