Coast to Coast: Wide range of rankings shows football’s unpredictability

Welcome back, one and all, to the hardest hitting sports column on the Daily Trojan’s hallowed pages. Last semester saw us successfully predict the basketball national championship, call the Nets a flop before it was cool and be just a bit too harsh on Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins. I’ll start the semester with some football talk, but the rest of the sports world shouldn’t breathe easy. We’ll be back.

What an offseason it’s been for USC Football and their bright and shiny new head coach. The Trojans raided the transfer portal like it was the USC Village Target on move-in day and snagged a couple of blue-chip freshmen along the way. Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams looks to be an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy and freshman cornerback Domani Jackson will wreak havoc on the defensive end with a 10.25-100m time. 

But how good will this team really be?

The Heavyweights

AP slotted USC in at No.14 behind perennially underrated North Carolina State. Bleacher Report is slightly more confident in the Trojans, putting them at No. 11, while CBS Sports goes for a compromise at No. 12. The three mainstream rankings put USC at an average place of 12.3, making them a solid, but not CFP-worthy, squad. Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller thinks a playoff run is a legitimate possibility if the Trojans can win at Utah in mid-October. ESPN has Oregon State and University of Utah finishing above USC in the Pac-12, with the Trojans losing to the Utes in the conference championship game. Solidly mid-tier.

The Sportsbooks

Vegas Insider is higher on USC football than the media, giving the Trojans the fifth-best odds in the country to win the national championship. BetMGM has the shortest odds for USC, putting them at +2000, compared to +175 for the Alabama Crimson Tide and +350 for the reigning champion Georgia Bulldogs. The money has continued to shift the Trojans’ way this summer as big-money bettors go all in on Head Coach Lincoln Riley’s transfer-heavy team. USC will open the season as 35-point favorites against the Rice Owls.

The Pundits

Four AP poll voters left USC out of their top 25 entirely. Harry Lyles Jr. is buying what Coach Riley is selling with the trio of Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison and Travis Dye. ESPN’s Sam Acho called USC the most overrated team in the AP poll. With so many players coming into the program, Acho doesn’t think the Trojans will be able to turn around last year’s abysmal defense. Paul Finebaum called Riley a “top five coach.” There’s no consensus among the TV talking heads, and some of them are going to look really good when November rolls around. The rest — well, they aren’t paid to be accurate.

The Wildcards

Notable college football Instagram account @biggameboomer is low on USC, putting them at 21, just ahead of former USC quarterback Kedon Slovis’ University of Pittsburgh. Bill Connelley calls USC “unprojectable.” Various couch experts have put USC as low as out of the top 25 and as high as fourth. With so many new variables on the team, it’s hard to guess where the Trojans will end up. That leads nicely into our last section: me attempting to do exactly that.

My Predictions

I might be the worst person on campus to go to for a prediction. Last year, I was filmed for a USC TV show saying I believed the football team would bounce back after former Head Coach Clay Helton’s firing and finish the year strong. They would go on to lose seven of their next 10 games. With that sterling prediction in the back window, I’ll try again in a year that should be more favorable to preseason prognostics. I think the team will come together in Riley’s first year, winning out until their trip to Utah. After that, the team will bounce back with easy wins over Arizona, University of California, Berkeley and University of Colorado, Boulder. A back-and-forth rivalry game across town will end with USC up two touchdowns, but the regular season will end with a loss at home to Notre Dame over Thanksgiving break.

Yoav Gillath is a sophomore writing about the NFL and NCAA football. His column “Coast to Coast” runs every other Thursday.