With their two-year postseason ban behind them and a star-studded offense leading the way, the USC Trojans entered this season as a popular NCAA football betting (click here) pick to be one of the two teams contesting the national championship come January.
But only three weeks into the season, the Trojans’ title hopes have taken a serious hit, as they fell 21-14 Saturday night at Stanford. USC led 7-0 and 14-7 early on, but their prolific offense was held scoreless for the last 41 minutes by Stanford’s suffocating defense. Preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Matt Barkley was sacked four times and heavily pressured countless more as he went 20 for 41 for 254 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions, and Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd combined for only 54 rushing yards on 20 carries.
However, while the defeat is a major blow for USC, it isn’t a mortal one. There’s never really anything good about losing, especially to a rival. But not only did the loss come early, it was a close loss on the road to a ranked team, so they haven‘t suffered the kind of fall in the college football rankings they would have if they‘d lost to, say, UL-Monroe at home or by 18 at 0-2 Pittsburgh.
Of course, they likely have to run the table from here on out to give themselves a chance, as a second loss would almost certainly be too much to come back from. Their remaining schedule isn‘t an easy one, as they have away tests against Utah, Washington, Arizona, and UCLA, and host Oregon and Notre Dame. And if they do indeed finish the regular season with one loss, a second trip to Stanford or a home rematch with Oregon would likely loom in the Pac-12 title game. But even though scholarship reductions have hurt their depth, an issue that was exposed by Stanford, there is more than enough ability on both sides of the ball, provided they don’t suffer a rash of injuries to key players, for the Trojans to take care of their end of the deal.
Some help along the way is also required, and if you look at what’s ahead for other potential title contenders, USC should feel optimistic about their chances. Every potential contender, from Alabama on down to West Virginia, has at least one tough road game to deal with.
So while the Trojans put themselves in an unfavorable position by losing last night, hope is far from lost. The route may have gotten tougher, but if things go as they very well could, USC could wind up at the expected destination in the end.