Saturday, September 27, 2008

Is USC One and Done?

I stayed up late enough on Thursday night to watch Oregon State hold off Southern Cal's comeback attempt, and the then-No. 1 Trojans lost the decision to the upstart Beavers, 27-21.

And, because of that loss in late September, many people are now writing off USC's prospects for playing for a national title in January.

For example, Michael Ventre writes, for, that the Trojans can forget about appearing in the national title game in January.

"The Trojans didn’t just hurt their chances to play for a national title," Ventre says, "they slaughtered them."

Ventre doesn't refer to the mere fact that Oregon State was unranked. In fact, according to, the Beavers barely rank in the top half of the entire Division I.

He contends that the real problem is that the Trojans "should have learned this lesson already" when they lost at home to Stanford, 24-23, nearly a year ago, "and that’s why voters will punish them from here on."

Thus, in Ventre's analysis, those who vote in the poll rankings have such long memories and extensive knowledge of college football that they will remember not only that USC lost to Stanford last October but also that they will recall the role they played in gradually improving USC's chances of playing for the national championship by continuing to rank them higher with each succeeding victory — and they will seek absolution for their complicity.

"People are savvier these days," Ventre writes, "and they’re more likely to sip the Kool-Aid rather than guzzle it without thinking."

In Ventre's words, last year the Trojans "finished strong and made an inspired case for why they should play for the national championship."

But, in the end, even though the Trojans were in the running for a berth in the national title game, they didn't get it.

Ventre suggests that the voters won't let USC get away with another upset loss in 2008 and be a prospect for the national championship by season's end. I think he gives the voters more credit than they deserve.

Personally, I'm not convinced that USC won't be in the national title picture again at the end of the season — assuming they run the table the rest of the way.

And, as weak as the Pac-10 is, it seems likely to me that USC can win the rest of its games.

It seems to me that the team that has been living on borrowed time is Ohio State.

The Buckeyes played SEC teams for the national title the last two years and failed miserably each time.

USC's loss on Thursday night should weigh even more heavily on the Buckeyes than on the Trojans. It was merely two weeks ago that Ohio State was hammered in a face-to-face meeting with the same USC team that was embarrassed by Oregon State.

So it seems to me that the real question should be, will the pollsters promote Ohio State (currently languishing in the Second Ten of both Top 25 polls) and eventually give the Buckeyes a third straight opportunity to seize the ring — in spite of lurching through the season?

Lord knows, I'm no fan of the BCS. But there's a good reason why the BCS rankings are not released until after the midway point of the season. It gives teams time to show their true identities.

Are they contenders or pretenders? That's a question that simply cannot be adequately answered in three or four games.

And, with all due respect to Ventre, the BCS pollsters haven't demonstrated to me that their memories are longer than the typical gypsy moth's.

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