Something important got lost in all the disappointment and frustration and anger after USC’s loss in Arizona last week.
BCS national title hopes dashed; flights to Miami unbooked. People more or less said the season was over.
But it’s not: USC still controls its own destiny to the Rose Bowl.
Yes, the Rose Bowl. The “Granddaddy of Them All.” Where USC really belongs.
Making it to Pasadena on New Year’s Day is never something to be looked down upon, no matter how hyped a team is. The Trojans have played in the Rose Bowl Game 33 times and has won 24 of them. It has won more Rose Bowls than any other team has even played in (Michigan has played in 20 and won 8, both good for second-best). Put simply, USC owns the Rose Bowl -— the most prestigious game in college football, and that is something to be proud of.
Now, the Rose Bowl would be a big-time accomplishment for this No. 17 Trojan team. But it’s something withreach.
The Trojans have two conferences losses and still sit in first place in the Pac-12 South. UCLA has two conference losses as well. Arizona already had three before knocking off USC, and Arizona State already has three as well.
That means if the Trojans take care of business against the Bruins and the Sun Devils, they remain in the driver’s seat to represent the South in the Pac-12 division championship game.
Of course, that also means they have to take care of business against Oregon.
Ah yes, the Oregon Ducks. They of 53 points-per-game and a 34-point average margin of victory. Before the season, this was supposed to be “Semifinal Saturday,” with Oregon and USC facing off as well as Alabama and LSU. Well, both the Trojans and the Tigers have slipped now, which the Ducks and Crimson Tide are plowing through everyone.
It would seem as if this weekend has been rendered meaningless, but it hasn’t. We might not have a de facto BCS national championship semifinal taking place at the Coliseum on Saturday, but what we have is nonetheless one of the most important games of the year — for both teams.
If the Ducks win, they get through what still must be considered the toughest game on their schedule, despite a trip to Corvallis in late November for the Civil War. For the Trojans, a loss would mean they need help. Three conference defeats would tie them with the Wildcats, who obviously own the tie-breaker. For the Trojans to win the South under this circumstance, Arizona would need to lose at least one of its final four games, which is plausible but far from a sure thing.
If USC wins it would accomplish two extremely important things: the team garners a signature victory for the season and gain some much-needed momentum with several tough games yet to be had. But more importantly, it proves to the conference that USC is still a threat to be reckoned with. If there is a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, it would be in Eugene, Ore. USC would go up there knowing that they can beat the Ducks. They would have done it already this year, and they did it at Autzen Stadium a year ago.
A USC win would also put newfound pressure on the Ducks. Seeimingly knocked out of the national title picture, they would suddenly be faced with the prospect of having to win out to even have a shot at the Rose Bowl. A loss to either Stanford or Oregon State would give at least one of those teams the tiebreaker over the Ducks, and neither of those games are shoo-in victories.
So don’t for a second believe that this game “doesn’t matter.” The Trojans played games that “didn’t matter” for two years. This game is not one of them. USC hasn’t played in a bowl game — any bowl game — in more than two years. The national championship game is pretty damn big aspirations for a program’s first postseason appearance in three years. The Rose Bowl is too, but at least the Rose Bowl is the Trojans’ house.
There are exactly zero starters on this Trojan team who have played in the Rose Bowl. In fact there’s only one player who ever has, and that’s sixth-year safety Drew McAllister. Fifth-year senior center Khaled Holmes was redshirting the last time the Trojans were in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Even more, there are only six players on this squad who have played in any bowl game. That was the Emerald Bowl, which is played at a baseball stadium and doesn’t really count.
So for Matt Barkley, the most successful quarterback in Trojan history, and Robert Woods, the most successful receiver in USC history, there would be no shame in ending their careers in Pasadena instead of Miami. In fact, that’s probably the way it should be.
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