Posted on November 16, 2020
About an hour before kickoff Saturday between USC and Arizona, I sent out a tweet that, in hindsight, maybe I should’ve kept in my drafts:
I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I just don’t see any way USC possibly loses this game.
— Nathan Ackerman (@NathanAckerman_) November 14, 2020
I mean, I wasn’t wrong.
But what transpired in between the moment I sent that tweet and the moment I retweeted it to bask in my own self-righteous glory was certainly not the road I anticipated, nor is it the road that any Trojan fan should be particularly thankful for this holiday season.
Simply put, that performance by the Trojans just wasn’t good enough. Not even close.
Heading into the game, I was prepared to consider any scenario in which USC didn’t cover the 14.5-point spread a negative outcome for the Trojans, and, well, that’s what we got.
This is where the anti-Trojan steps in says, “You stupid spoiled USC fan, this is why everyone hates your school. All your incessant indignation when you haven’t been good since Pete Carroll.”
[Insert unrelated, forced College Admission Scandal jab here.]
I get it. But come on. USC should have blown Arizona’s doors off. That is simply not a good football team.
Let’s take a step back now, shall we?
USC is now one-third through its regular season, which started nine days ago. The team is 2-0, ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll.
The Trojans started this season ranked No. 20. Go ahead, do the math: In the first two games out of seven that USC has in its back pocket to make a case for the College Football Playoff—which is unquestionably the Trojans’ goal, as it should be—USC has moved exactly zero spots in the AP rankings.
The Trojans started off the regular season with less time to make its case than literally every other Power Five school, and now, they’ve gone basically nowhere as that time to make said case is dwindling.
In other words, I’m not looking at what the unimpressive wins project about the rest of the season, which is a whole other topic. I’m looking at the damage those games have already done.
Week 1’s miraculous, should-not-have-happened, 1-point victory over Arizona State moved the Trojans up exactly zero spots in the AP Poll, despite it being a season-opening win against one of the better teams in the Pac-12 South.
To be quite frank, the poll got it right. USC was abysmal for 55 minutes and miraculous, plus slightly lucky, in the final five. Consider that Blown Opportunity No. 1.
Now, Blown Opportunity No. 2. The Trojans, after having a week in between games to work out the many adjustments necessary from Week 1, took on the Arizona Wildcats and almost left with a loss that would have surely left Clay Helton on the tarmac, lest the higher-ups at USC find another preposterous reason to keep him around.
These matchups against the Arizonas of the world are just as important to USC as the ones against Arizona State, Utah and (potentially) Oregon. These are the games USC needs to not just win, but to win by a lot. A lot more than 4.
So far, so bad.
USC posting an undefeated record this year is not an automatic ticket to the College Football Playoff. There will likely be several undefeated teams vying with the Trojans for one of those four spots—of which only one, maybe two are realistically available—and with USC having a shorter schedule than any of those other teams, the wins have to be convincing.
To this point, they have not been convincing.
Does an undefeated USC edge out a one-loss Notre Dame, if that one loss is to Clemson—a team the Irish had beaten earlier in the year? What about a BYU team that’ll have three more wins to its name and is blowing the doors off every opponent? Or an undefeated Wisconsin or Indiana that probably has a win over Ohio State on its resume?
Shoot, I don’t know, and I won’t pretend I can predict the future. But the Trojans can certainly help their case by taking care of subpar opponents with ease, rather than struggling to put them away like they did Arizona.
I’ve never been fond of the argument that a bunch of college kids shouldn’t feel entitled to celebrate a win if that win isn’t quite satisfactory. The team should celebrate, especially considering it almost wasn’t a win at all.
But celebrating a win and knowing you simply have to improve—and fast—are two concepts that aren’t mutually exclusive.
USC has to understand that. Because more performances like the one against Arizona will not cut it.
—More from Nathan Ackerman—
- Ackerman: USC was right to opt out of a bowl game
- Ackerman: In the End, USC’s Playmakers Made Plays Again
- Ackerman: Fired-Up USC has ‘the Juice’
- Ackerman: Midseason Awards for USC Football
- Ackerman: USC’s Performance against Utah was Promising Moving Forward
- Ackerman: Things that Could Go Wrong for the Trojans this Year
- Ackerman: The Munir McClain Situation Puts Clay Helton in Hot Water
- Ackerman: Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Alijah Vera-Tucker’s Return
- Ackerman: Game-by-Game Predictions for USC in 2020
- Ackerman: AP Voters Disrespected Trojans in Leaving them Out of Latest Poll
- Ackerman: Not Playing Football in Fall Would be Catastrophic for Pac-12
- Ackerman: New Trojan Coaches Must Get More Out of Their Existing Talent
Ackerman: USC was right to opt out of a bowl gameTurning down an Alamo Bowl bid wasn't quitting; it just wasn’t worth it - December 21, 2020
Ackerman: In the End, USC’s Playmakers Made Plays AgainThe Trojans’ talent bailed out questionable coaching decisions on Saturday - December 13, 2020
Ackerman: Fired-Up USC has ‘the Juice’The Trojans’ energy in Week 5 showed they want the smoke of whatever comes their way - December 8, 2020