USC’s tough schedule is doing them no favors

Watching the football game from deep within the student section on Saturday, I was cautiously optimistic. There is no point in saying a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game is once again in reach, but at least USC has a chance to not be a losing team this year.

When the beginning of the football season rolled around, the Trojans were facing the toughest schedule in the country. But I certainly didn’t anticipate that through five weeks of the season, USC would have faced only undefeated teams.

This weekend will be the first time the Trojans face an opponent who hasn’t been perfect yet this year — the 4-1, No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes.

As surprising as the Trojans’ season has been, the Buffs’ has been equally so. They are not only another ranked opponent for USC, but also currently the lone leaders in the Pac-12 South.

The Trojans have had to play a ridiculously difficult schedule so far this year, and perhaps if the schedule were a little easier, the tune of this season would have been entirely different.

When the Trojans smashed ASU this past Saturday, it was only their second win of the year. Both wins have come against unranked opponents, with the other one being a Week 2 win over an underwhelming Utah State. Even though the Sun Devils were an undefeated team, as long as the Trojans prepared with diligence and approached the game with a humble attitude, they were expected to win. Couple that with an injured Sun Devil quarterback (the backup played the second half), and Arizona State never really had a chance.

Meanwhile, USC is preparing to face its fourth ranked opponent this season. The Trojans have yet to defeat any top 25 team. Does it matter that Colorado doesn’t know who its starting quarterback is? Did it matter that they entered the ranking while their usual starter has been injured and the team is being lead by a backup redshirt freshman? The answer is the same; no.

Many blindly faithful Trojan fans will be appalled at the matchup this week. How can Colorado be ranked while USC hasn’t received any votes? Part of it has to do with strength of schedule, but part of it has to do with being able to take care of business.

A positive note for the Trojans after Saturday’s 41-20 victory was that the team showed it is capable of doing what is expected of it, something that had been lacking this season up until that point.

Of course I think that USC is the superior football team to Colorado, but with the way things have gone so far this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans stream out of the Coliseum uttering curse words and calling for head coach Clay Helton’s head after a heartbreaking loss. Certainly USC has the more athletic team, but even in a sport like football, it has been clear so far this season that athleticism can only carry you part of the way.

Perhaps in hindsight the Trojans have played the most difficult part of their season, opening with three out of their first four games away from the Coliseum, but now, perhaps there is a different light on things.

No one expected the upcoming game against Colorado to be anything more than a game that the Trojans would be expected to win with ease. Now, USC will have to battle another ranked opponent who will be gunning for them.

So maybe personnel choices and head coaching decisions have been the immediate cause for the problems the team has suffered thus far this season, but the overarching problem was that the schedule was far too tough for a team that was neither talented nor prepared enough to face its early competition.

The structure of the schedule contributed to this phenomenon as well. Had the Trojans not opened against Alabama (something they never would have been ready for), rebounded against Utah State, and not had to go into a highly competitive road contest with Utah, maybe they would have been able to get a stronger grip on the season, and maybe they would have a different starting quarterback.

None of that really matters though, since the sports world is solely a results-oriented business, and nowhere is that more obvious than here at USC. As the Trojans get a tougher and tougher draw — opponents seem to hop into the top 25 right before USC faces them — it gets harder and harder for the Trojans to have what is considered a successful season by the critics here in Troy.

Hailey Tucker is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Tucker Talks,” runs Thursdays.