End of the season is important for Trojans

first_imgUSC football is back. If it wasn’t clear before Saturday, it is abundantly so now. There are a wide array of indicators one could point at to drive this point home. For one, commentators and analysts across the country are once again describing USC as the team no one wants to play at the end of the year. A more obvious reason would be USC playing a somewhat sloppy game and still racking up 500-plus yards of offense while thoroughly dismantling a talented crosstown rival.Both of these factors should leave everyone in Trojan Nation happy, but I use another metric to truly gauge USC’s national relevance. For the first time since Mark Sanchez was quarterbacking a one-loss USC team in November of 2008, I actually care about what other nationally top-ranked teams are doing this late in the season.For the last seven full seasons, USC has, for one reason or another, had no true national relevance in November in regards to the championship game or now playoff. Last Saturday, after the phenomenal Washington win, I started dreaming up scenarios in which USC could make an impromptu run to the playoff. That is how I know USC is finally back. While their chances of a playoff run are quite improbable, crazier things have happened.Since Pete Carroll left Los Angeles, matchups between top-10 teams and unranked opponents late in November have meant nothing. Redshirt quarterback Sam Darnold and company have revived that interest. The prowess of the USC program left me glued to the TV on Saturday morning, watching and praying for a TCU upset over Oklahoma State. After a close first half, the Cowboys unfortunately ran away with the game.The scenario I dreamed up last week was contingent on an Oklahoma State loss to the TCU Horned Frogs and about 15 other unlikely outcomes. Now, even if Colorado loses to Utah next week, Washington beats Washington State and the Trojans dominate the Huskies it probably won’t be enough to get the Trojans to the playoff.USC needs Michigan State to beat Penn State next week, and either Michigan or Ohio State to absolutely dominate the other. They then need one of those two teams to pummel Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game, provided Wisconsin doesn’t miraculously lose next week to a solid Minnesota football team.Finally, since Oklahoma State won, the best the Trojans can hope for is an ugly game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Cowboys with Oklahoma State eking out a narrow victory. Of course, a Clemson loss would really help muddle the picture even more.Even with all of this happening, I fear USC would be on the outside looking in as both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have compelling cases for why they should be in the playoff, with the Sooners as hot as the Trojans this late in the season and the Cowboys only having one true defeat on their record.More than anything else, it feels great to care about these games. USC has given real meaning to college football this late in the year. The above scenario is a pipe dream, but it still exists and that is more than one can say for the hopes of the last seven years of Trojan football this late in November.Even if Colorado wins, as long as Washington beats both Washington State and Colorado, USC has a great chance of playing in the Rose Bowl. There are other scenarios that are much more favorable to the Trojans than that, but even that dismal scenario makes it pretty exciting to be a Trojan fan right about now.Sometimes, the prowess of a program is measured in the bizarre, intangible events. After Oregon beat Utah in a wild fourth quarter, my phone was blowing up with excited messages from both diehard fans and casual USC observers. People care about Trojan football again. It’s not the manufactured interest at the beginning of the season that dies off three weeks into the year. This is real, palpable passion for a dominant Trojan program.USC didn’t just beat UCLA yesterday. They terrorized them. They did to the Bruins what Alabama and Stanford have done to overmatched foes for the last half decade. Save for a few miscues on the Trojans part, this wasn’t even a game. The most stunning aspect of it all was that USC wasn’t even at full strength or operating on offense like they have in weeks past. The Trojans won ugly on Saturday and it was pretty beautiful. The Trojans are so replete with talent at the receiver position that senior De’Quan Hampton, who was a darling of spring practice last year, hasn’t been able to crack the rotation consistently. Saturday showed the nation what every fan has seen in practice -— Hampton is a physical specimen. He could follow the path of fellow Trojan physical marvels like David Ausberry and Jordan Cameron, who didn’t make a huge impact at USC but carved out solid NFL careers.The only thing USC can control next week is their matchup against Notre Dame, who is one of the best 4-and-7 teams of all time. Hopefully the dominoes fall in some type of order that allows USC to continue their excellent play into a meaningful postseason appearance, but even if they don’t the future is as bright as ever.The team is following through on head coach Clay Helton’s promise to play fast and physical and with Darnold at the helm anything is possible. He may make mistakes now and again, but he is as talented of a college quarterback as I have ever seen with his rocket arm and excellent speed. His ability to consistently convert on third down when all hope seems lost is the key ingredient for the Trojans’ seven-game win streak. As long as he stays healthy, Trojan fans have Heisman Trophy and national title celebrations to look forward to in the years to come. That last line feels so great to say again.Jake Davidson is a senior majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” ran Mondays.last_img