No room for error for the Trojans

It’s easy to see why USC comes into this college football season as the No. 1 team in the nation but there are several stumbling blocks on the road to a national championship and this week we take a look at five key concerns for the Trojans.

The goal for USC coming into this season is to go undefeated. That’s nothing earth shattering. But if they hope to play for the national championship at the end of the season, going undefeated isn’t simply a goal, it’s a requirement.

History shows that teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 can suffer a loss and still make it to the BCS national championship game. That same room for error, however, is not afforded to teams in the former Pac-10 and current Pac-12.

A Pac-12 team has played in the BCS title game only three times and each time that team was undefeated. There should have been other appearances for the conference, but teams were not able to overcome an early season loss. In 2001, Oregon was ranked second in the AP poll but was bypassed by Nebraska, which was blown out by Colorado, 62-36, in their final regular-season game and didn’t even play in their conference title game. In 2003, USC was ranked first in both the AP and coaches poll but was bypassed by Oklahoma and LSU, even though Oklahoma was blown out, 35-7, in their conference title game.

One of USC’s most dominant teams and easily the best defense then-coach Pete Carroll had was the 2008 team, which was unable to overcome one bad half after a 27-21 loss to Oregon State in Week 3. That team came into that game ranked No. 1 and despite holding 10 of its 12 opponents to 10 points or fewer that season; they were never able to crack the top four again after their bad first half in Corvallis.

Quite simply, if USC wants to play for the national championship they cannot afford to have a bad half or a close loss. Teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 may be able to get away with that, but USC will not be afforded the same benefit of the doubt.

It won’t be easy. Only two teams in the BCS era and 10 teams since 1950 have begun the season atop the AP preseason poll and finished the season in that spot. The most recent team to accomplish this feat was USC in 2004.