Column: Unbeaten and unrespected, USC won’t get a shot at national championship

USC running back Stephen Carr runs the ball against UCLA.
USC running back Stephen Carr, right, runs the ball against UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

People don’t like their coach. They don’t like their schedule. They don’t like their conference.

People think they’re undisciplined. They think they’re poorly managed. They think that in a game against a powerful team they would get creamed.

People think they flunk the eyeball test, and often times they have, but c’mon people, what about the ultimate test?


The USC football team has won every game. It has done everything it is supposed to do. It is 5-0. That is a perfect record. If the Trojans defeat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game Friday, they will be 6-0. That is a perfect regular season.

And people, you’re telling me that a perfect regular season in a Power Five conference would not be good enough for a spot in college football’s final four?

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee farcically answered that question Tuesday, ending USC’s wisp of a national playoff hope by ranking the Trojans 13th with one game remaining, making it impossible for them to leap into the playoffs.

Any chances the Trojans had of making it into the four-team College Football Playoff vanished with Tuesday’s release of the latest rankings.

Dec. 15, 2020

USC is unbeaten, yet is ranked behind four teams with two losses, three teams with one loss, and unbeaten Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina.

Ranked ahead of them is two-loss Iowa State, which lost by 17 points to Louisiana Lafayette. Also ranked ahead of them is two-loss Florida, just days after its home loss to an LSU team that was 3-5.

Even if the Trojans have driven you crazy in bumbling and blundering and trailing late to three inferior opponents, this list is a sham.


Even if you think they would have no chance of actually winning a title, the lack of national respect given their retooling program is a joke.

They are one win from becoming the first undefeated Power Five conference champion to be left out of the playoffs in the CFP’s seven-year history.

“It’s just frustrating,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a phone interview after the ratings were released. “I realize we have to continue to go and improve.”

Improve on 5-0? The selection committee apparently thinks so. In a conference call Tuesday, chairman Gary Barta said the Trojans were being judged by an absence of top-25 opponents and a lack of domination. The committee believed that seemingly the most impressive thing about this team — three fourth-quarter comebacks — is actually the most negative.

“…In three of those games, USC was behind in the fourth quarter,” Barta said, adding, “It’s important to win, but the committee watches all the games, and who you play is important and how you win those games is also important.”

Tracking the high school football players from the 2021 recruiting class who are officially signing with USC or UCLA as the early signing period opens.

Dec. 16, 2020

To be honest, these Trojans probably were doomed from the start, irreparably damaged by their recent history and their conference’s incompetency.

When they entered the season they were coming off a stretch of 13-13 with two bad losses to Big Ten teams in bowl games. It was little wonder that even with a 3-0 record, they began this year’s CFP rankings at 18th. In the same rankings, Ohio State was fourth even though it was just 4-0.

“That initial reputation of being an elite team year in and year out certainly has advantages for some programs,” Bohn said. “Obviously as we continue to improve that is going to be held against us; that’s something we’re just going to have to overcome by continuing to show the grit that we have.”

The Pac-12 is also to blame for much of this. With a lousy television deal leading to lousy recruiting leading to lousy football teams, the national perception of the conference has fallen to an all-time low. Its football depth is nonexistent, its bumbling commissioner Larry Scott is no longer taken seriously, and at some point you have to wonder when USC football is going to wise up and leave the conference and fully capitalize on its unique and lucrative brand.

The Trojans are also stuck in college football’s only conference that also hasn’t protected its elite team during these pandemic playoffs. The Pac-12 rules should have been changed so USC played a 4-1 Colorado team for the championship, thus improving its resume. A win over a 3-2 Oregon team that has lost its last two games won’t be much help.

“I’m not sure the Pac-12 has been given the type of respect it deserves,” Bohn said, being kind.

Yet, still, in this pandemic-scarred season, it should not have been how you start — USC began training months later than most — but how you finish, and the Trojans are finishing as one of the most exciting teams in college football.

Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State will enter championship weekend in position to make the College Football Playoff.

Dec. 15, 2020

In their last three games, they won at Utah, blew out Washington State, then overcame an 18-point, second-half deficit to win at UCLA. They were nationally dismissed after two early-season escapes against the two awful teams from Arizona, but after Saturday’s late brilliance at the Rose Bowl against the best Bruins team in several years, one thought somebody would take notice.

There are, however, smart and reasonable Trojans fans who are satisfied with Tuesday’s outcome. They didn’t want to see their team get waxed by their probable semifinal opponent, Alabama. They didn’t want Clay Helton to gain any more juice that would delay his firing. They want a win over Oregon on Friday, a win against some Midwestern behemoth in the Fiesta Bowl, and a quick end to this brutal season.

But, still, even some must consider: If USC is good enough to endure this pandemic journey to go unbeaten in what is still one of the top five conferences in college football, shouldn’t that at least have given the Trojans a shot at a championship?

“We’re going to do everything we can to stay on this positive trajectory so that when the rankings come out year in and year out, they recognize that USC is doing some good things,” Bohn said.

Better than good. Better, apparently, than perfect.