The Other USC as No. 1, or Here We Go Again

It's about that time again.

Some are beginning to look at the coming season in college football, and already casting their eyes on what should obviously be the No. 1 team in the land: Southern Cal.


(Some, oddly enough, seem ready to go with Ohio State, a notion C&F feels no particular need to counter.)

Now, C&F has somewhat begrudgingly taken up the role of Trojan skeptic, starting last year, when he said in July that he was thinking about not having Southern Cal atop his ballot.

It would go against all four preview mags -- even Phil Steele! -- and against EDSBS' pronouncement that "anyone with half a tank of rationality will pick them at number one."


C&F's problem with these statements is not that choosing the Trojans as No. 1 is not defensible. It was more than defensible in the case of EDSBS last year and it is in the case of this year's early pro-other-USC booster, SMQ. It is the way opponents to that argument are framed.

More after the jump...

(And if you're wondering, yes, C&F is also concerned that, when it comes to this subject, he always seems to be differing with someone smarter than him.

(Coincidentally, this is not at all to say that C&F's choices for Nos. 1 and 2 should be trusted. After all, he noted last August:

If Michigan avoids the "huh?" game, there seems to be little to keep them from going undefeated and being a great team.



This was the "huh?" game. And then there were more.)


Yet again, there are valid reasons for choosing Southern Cal to win it all this year, though C&F will note in a moment that there are equally valid reasons to choose someone else. And that, in the end, is what bothers C&F about the SMQ post.

The air of inevitability wafting around last preseason evaporated with the Stanford loss, but there's no reason other than hubris SC shouldn't start the season number one again, or that it should be expected to lose any particular game.


Now, this isn't saying that "anyone with half a tank of rationality" will go for the Trojans, but it's pretty close. Essentially: You have to be arrogant to choose someone other than Southern Cal.

What is surprising is that this is a pattern we have seen over and over again, particularly with reference to two teams: Beginning in 2004, Southern Cal was a consensus No. 1 pick three out of four years. In just one of those cases -- 2004 -- did the Trojans end the year at No. 1. Yet anyone who goes against the Southern Cal consensus is either crazy or arrogant. Every year.

That said, SMQ does make a decent case for the Trojans, one that deserves a rebuttal if C&F is going to quibble with the inevitability of Southern Cal.

You won't read much about anything else through August, but as I pointed out last week, USC quarterbacks these days tend to be USC quarterbacks: be it Mark Sanchez, Mitch Mustain, even Aaron Corp, the new passer is assuredly in the same big-armed, pocket-bound mold of blue chip predecessors Palmer, Leinart and Booty and will generate comparable numbers in essentially the same play-action-based system.


Fair enough. And eerily reminiscent of something EDSBS wrote last year.

The wobbliest piece of USC's American Quilt of Talented Angels -- we're sure Pete Carroll calls it something like that, as opposed to the old Cartesian oppression of "depth chart" --- is at wide receiver, but even there the term "wobbly" remains, well, wobbly since Vidal Hazelton and Patrick Turner fit the mold of unmanageable USC receivers: tall, fast enough, good route runners with balletic skills to bring down balls in coverage.


True, the passing numbers for Southern Cal were pretty good. But not because of stellar performances from the WRs. In fact, the Trojans' leading receiver last year was Fred Davis (62 catches, 881 yards, 8 TDs) -- a tight end. Hazelton (50, 540, 4) and Turner (48, 569, 3 in 11 games) did OK, but nobody confused them with Steve Smith or Dwayne Jarrett.

This year, the good money is on Sanchez to be the starting QB. Can Sanchez be the next John David Booty? Well, in his three starts last year, Sanchez was 2-1, with wins against powerhouses Arizona and Notre Dame and a loss to Oregon. Sanchez shredded Notre Dame with 4 TDs and no picks, but completed just 55.3 percent of his passes. The completion rate was better in the other two games -- 62.5 percent -- but Sanchez threw 3 TDs compared to 4 INTs. All four games: 60 percent, 7 TDs and 4 INTs.

Booty -- or John David, as Musberger liked to call him -- was 63.2 percent with 23 TDs and 10 INTs, slightly better numbers, as a starter last year. And that includes when Booty played hurt in the disaster against Stanford, which Carroll later admitted was a mistake.

Do I think Sanchez will improve? Of course. But it's by no means a mortal lock, and anyone who raises the question of whether the QB contest will cloud the other USC's first few games raises a fair question.

The other place I would quibble with SMQ is when he says:

I'm the guy who wondered if we were seing the beginning of the end of the Troy dynasty last October, but it definitely did not look that way once the team was healthy again a few weeks later.


But C&F questions how much of this was "the team" getting healthy and how much was specifically Booty getting healthy. Aside from his injured and mistake-riddled debacle in Stanford, Booty didn't lose a game as the Trojans signal caller. The only ones that were even close were against Washington (wha?) -- his second-worst game of the season -- and California. (In fairness, he did little to contribute to the win against Nebraska, but when your offensive line is opening up holes best measured in nautical miles, your QB doesn't have to do much.)

These are my concerns about Southern Cal going into next season. Or the same concern, really: I'm just not sold that Sanchez can do as well as Booty. Will Southern Cal likely win the Pac-10 championship? Sure. Will the Trojans likely win 10 games? Sure. Can I circle a game or two that Southern Cal won't be favored in? No. But that was hard to do last August, too. It didn't bother me then; it won't bother me now. I'm worried enough that they will lose one or two games to look elsewhere.

Right now, I'm still leaning Georgia, for reasons I will likely outline later. (Or can outline now, if anyone really wants.) This is not SEC homerism: The spelling-challenged Dawgs are the one SEC team I root against practically every week even if the game has no impact on South Carolina; the thought of them winning it all makes me want to vomit, eat some more, and then vomit again. The only thing worse than Georgia winning the national title while I live in the state would be Lee Corso leading Clemson to an undefeated, national championship season. That, and nuclear holocaust.


Worse than Georgia winning it all? Check back with me in January.


But I will not, and would not, question the logic or arrogance of those who disagree with me. All I ask in return is the same consideration.

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