Path To The College Football Playoff: USC Trojans
What does USC have to do to get to the College Football Playoff?
What’s USC’s path to get to the College Football Playoff?
Should the College Football Playoff selection process be about the most deserving four teams, or the four best?
It’s hard to argue too much against Washington earning its way into the big four last year after winning the Pac-12 title and finishing 12-1, but USC was the better team by the end of the regular season.
Of course, the 1-3 start killed the Trojans’ chances to get into the fun, but after ripping through the last eight games – including a win over Colorado and a 26-13 domination of Washington in Seattle – the CFPers could’ve made a case that they left out one of the four best teams in the nation at the end of the year.
The phenomenal performance to beat Penn State in the epic Rose Bowl only fueled the pro-USC argument.
But there’s no excuse not to get in this season, with a team starting with a future NFL franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, a few strong recruiting classes about to mature and kick in, and enough talent on both sides of the ball to win the Pac-12 title and get into the playoff without an argument.
If everyone stays healthy and the personnel situations work out at some key spots, what’s USC’s path to the college football playoff?
Step One: Give Darnold The Pieces To Work With
The top two targets – JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers – are gone, but Deontay Burnett leads a good-looking group of young receivers who need to shine. Tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner will be NFL starters soon, along with mashing guard Damien Mama, leaving just two starters returning up front. It’ll all be fine – USC always reloads without a problem – but Darnold will be a marked man now. The supporting cast has to come together quickly, because USC has to …
Step Two: Win The First Three Games
Western Michigan isn’t the Western Michigan you knew and loved last year, but it’ll provide more than just a light scrimmage to kick things off. And then comes the big test to see just how good the 2017 Trojans are – Stanford.
The Cardinal will be right there with Washington and Oregon for the North title, and with one giant win on September 9th, USC can show it’ll be the star of the Pac-12.
Beat the Broncos, beat Stanford, and then comes Texas, who’ll be looking to make a huge national statement under Tom Herman. It’s a home game – just like the first two games – adding more pressure for USC. It can’t lose the big dates in LA.
Step Three: Survive Road Shootouts
Cal isn’t going to be the same bombing team under new head man Justin Wilcox – expect more of an emphasis on the defense and ground game – but the O isn’t going to completely change its stripes overnight. After going to Berkeley, the Trojans have to go to Pullman to deal with Washington State and the Mike Leach offense. USC should be good enough to win both of them, but it can’t get tripped up.
Step Four: Focus, Focus, Focus
USC should be 5-0 to start the season – 4-1 at worst – and then come the winnable home games against Oregon State and Utah. The Trojans should be double-digit favorites in both games – but the Utes always play tough – and there can’t be a strange slip. The rest of the schedule isn’t all that bad, but the key games in the second half are on the road.
This is going to be a very, very good Trojan team, but will it be good enough to get through the schedule unbeaten? Probably not, but it’ll likely be favored in every game. If there’s going to be a loss – and assuming it’s not to Stanford early on – it’s going to come later. Maintaining the focus against the Beavers and the Utes for a 7-0 start is a must because it has to …
Step Five: Survive The Road Gauntlet
Here’s the big problem: USC doesn’t get a week off. Its season ends after hosting UCLA on November 18th, going on a 12-week sprint without any sort of a break. That makes the run of three road games in four weeks – going to Notre Dame, Arizona State and Colorado, and with a home date against Arizona mixed in – an ill-timed schedule quirk.
If the Trojans are going to lose, blowing the game at Notre Dame wouldn’t be all that bad – as opposed to losing a Pac-12 game – but that would have to be it. They can’t buckle against an improved ASU or against another good Colorado team, especially with UCLA still to play.
Step Six: Get To Pac-12 Championship 11-1 or 12-0
If Texas and Notre Dame are incredible, there’s an outside shot that an 11-2 Pac-12 champion USC could still get into the College Football Playoff – but that would set a new precedent considering Penn State didn’t get in with two losses last year.
12-1 with a Pac-12 title all but guarantees a spot in the CFP, and 13-0 is a no-brainer. 12-1 with a Pac-12 championship loss still might get it done, but only if the conference winner has two losses or more. Notre Dame and Texas being great, to help the strength of schedule, wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.
So … What Are The Chances USC Gets Into The 2017-2018 College Football Playoff?
With this schedule? Fantastic.
There’s no Oregon or Washington on the regular season slate, and the toughest-looking games against Stanford, Texas, Utah and UCLA are at home.
Considering the Trojans should be in everyone’s preseason top five, and should be favored in every game, they’ll be in if they finish with one loss.
The pressure is on more than ever. Get into the College Football Playoff, or bust.