USC’s College Football Playoff path is there, if the defense gets its act together

The College Football Playoff committee gave USC a gift on Tuesday.

Yes, the Trojans moved up one spot in the latest rankings from No. 9 to 8. But the bigger development for USC was the arrival of Notre Dame at No. 20.

Apparently, the Irish’s upset win over Clemson last weekend was enough to overlook a 6-3 record with losses to Stanford and Marshall and move Notre Dame into the rankings. Whatever the committee’s rationale, USC shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

With No. 12 UCLA and No. 20 Notre Dame on the schedule for Weeks 12 and 13, USC has the chance to add two ranked wins to its playoff resume. Three, if No. 6 Oregon beats No. 13 Utah next week and the Trojans face the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game.

And if USC wins out and is a 12-1 conference champion with three top-25 wins in the last three weeks, the Trojans will have a very strong case to be one of the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff.

That’s a lot of “ifs” for the Trojans. And none of them are possible if the USC defense can’t get its act together.

Any speculation about USC’s playoff potential would be remiss if it ignored the current state of the defense. USC has given up 1,574 yards the last three games, and 1,012 the last two weeks to Cal and Arizona teams with a combined two wins in Pac-12 games.

USC has gotten lucky this trend hasn’t bitten them too badly. After losing to Utah by a single point, the Trojans walked away with one-possession wins over the Wildcats and Golden Bears. As defensive coordinator Alex Grinch put it Saturday, “You thank God, and you thank the offense.”

But after this week’s game against hapless Colorado, the prospect of playing UCLA’s fifth-ranked offense and Notre Dame after the Irish rushed for 263 yards against Clemson does not inspire much confidence that USC can make it to the Pac-12 title game.

Grinch has been brutally honest in his assessment of his unit, saying the lack of progress this late into the season makes him sick.

“Honestly, after last week, we all feel about the same,” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “We stunk offensively in the first half, we stunk defensively in the second half. … We’ve done a great job of covering for up for each other; that’s why we’ve had chances to win and won all of them but one. We obviously all are pushing hard to want to surge together.”

Many factors have dragged the USC defense down. Health has certainly been one, with the absences of linebackers Eric Gentry and Ralen Goforth exacerbating the Trojans’ depth issues at the position. Turnovers have become less frequent, and tackling remains an issue from the Clay Helton era.

But linebacker and defensive captain Shane Lee feels there is a root cause for all of those issues.

Related Articles

College Sports |

USC men’s basketball vs. Alabama State: What you need to know

College Sports |

USC WRs Jordan Addison, Mario Williams back at practice

College Sports |

Pac-12 bowl projections: Oregon to the playoff, UCLA to the Rose

College Sports |

Pac-12 TV outrage: Why one of the Nov. 19 showdowns will air in the night window on ESPN

College Sports |

USC suffers troubling loss to Florida Gulf Coast in season opener

“I think we do a lot of great things, a lot of the time. It’s just about doing it every single play,” Lee said. “A lot of the things that we struggle with isn’t necessarily like we’re bad tackling, we’re bad with run coverage or we’re bad at pass coverage. It’s just about the consistency of doing it every play, in and out.”

Colorado, in theory, should be a good chance for USC to exorcise these demons. The Buffaloes ranked 122nd nationally in total offense and 129th in scoring.

But it’s do-or-die time now for the USC defense, because the following two weeks won’t be so forgiving as the Trojans try to make their first College Football Playoff.

“You gotta be a competitor,” Lee said. “It should be discouraging. We’re not playing the way that we want to play. We have to figure out how to fix that.”

Share the Post:

Related Posts