It was only one week ago that USC still entertained a reasonable chance of eking into the national title picture by winning primetime matchups against top-five teams in Oregon and Notre Dame.
Now No. 17 in the BCS, USC must recalibrate its sights on a less lofty — but necessary — objective: winning the Pac-12 South division.
Claiming the Pac-12 South title would allow USC to play in the Pac-12 championship game against the North division winner. A victory in that game would vault USC into the Rose Bowl if it finished at least No. 14 in the BCS standings.
But based on the way the Trojans unraveled at Arizona, and Oregon’s pending visit Saturday, perhaps it’s wise not to put the cart too far ahead of the horse.
Currently, USC stands in a three-way tie with UCLA and Arizona State in the Pac-12 South for fewest conference losses with two. Obviously, the most definite path for USC to ensure a Pac-12 title game berth is to win the remainder of its conference slate.
Yet, even if USC loses to Oregon this weekend and wins the rest of its matchups, it can ensure itself of finishing ahead of UCLA and Arizona State by virtue of winning its head-to-head matchups — the ultimate tiebreaker if teams finish with the same Pac-12 record.
Suffering their third Pac-12 loss to Oregon, however, does open the Trojans up to competition from Arizona, which has currently posted three conference losses to Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon.
But the Wildcats must still face UCLA — in Pasadena this Saturday — and Arizona State to finish the season in the Territorial Cup, meaning they are by no means assured of winning the remainder of their games — especially if star quarterback Matt Scott misses time because of a concussion he suffered against USC.
Despite the loss to Arizona, USC sits in a surprisingly comfortable position atop the Pac-12 South that effectively just requires the Trojans to beat Arizona State and UCLA and hope for the Wildcats to slip up in one of their four remaining games.
The Trojans, a supposed mortal lock for the Pac-12 title game entering 2012, will now have to do some Pac-12 scoreboard-watching with Arizona.
Winning the Pac-12 South is no longer the effective fait accompli it was before last Saturday, but the Trojans still control their own destiny and can likely still make it to the Pac-12 title game even with a loss against Oregon.