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USC should follow Ohio State's blueprint on how to return to top

LOS ANGELES -- With Ohio State’s mauling of Oregon, the College Football Playoff finale means the official close to the 2014 season and soon the beginning of the 2015 season.

And no team in America is likely happier about that than the USC Trojans. So, what can the Trojans learn from Ohio State’s victory on Monday night?

Well, in order to be a strong championship contender, the Trojans will have to be extremely talented, physical, disciplined, dedicated, and well coached. They will also have that special team chemistry, which usually is the proverbial “it” factor.

In watching Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his old-school, disciplined style of football, it probably confirmed what USC coach Steve Sarkisian already knew in terms of the style and type of blueprint needed to get to the top of the college football mountain.

USC went 9-4 in 2014, and Sarkisian's rah-rah oratory suggests that the Trojans are on the way back. But if you think that Sark is using over-the-top hyperbole, there are others that agree that the best is yet to come.

The Trojans are getting some very early 2015 love from ESPN’s plethora of college football experts, proclaiming the Men of Troy a consensus No. 4 seed for next season’s CFP and even a very early No. 4 preseason national ranking.

Although some might dispute the optimism or be in denial, the Trojans are positioning themselves nicely for a potential return to glory, but attaining that high level of success won’t come easy. The coaching and competition level in the Pac-12 has never been better, and then there is the pressure that goes along with high expectations.

While the Trojans have lost some key players from 2014 like All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams, All-Pac-12 wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and All-Pac-12 tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen to the NFL draft, there is still enough talent left -- led by Heisman Trophy quarterback candidate Cody Kessler -- to make a run in the difficult Pac-12 South Division and beyond.

One area of legitimate concern for 2015 is the Trojans' lack of experience in handling being highly ranked or having even recently participated in a pressure-packed elimination game like the Pac-12 championship.

It takes a special type of mental toughness to crack through this big-game inexperience. It may turn out to be the Trojans' biggest hurdle next season, something that the Oregon program has already overcome thanks to past Pac-12 championships and the recent CFP semifinal victory over Florida State.

In 2012, the Trojans, under former head coach Lane Kiffin and heralded quarterback Matt Barkley, were the nation’s preseason No. 1 team. That team and its head coach didn’t have the experience or maturity to handle the top spot and eventually finished a very disappointing 7-6.

So, one of Sarkisian’s major offseason objectives will be to educate his team on how to handle such lofty expectations. So much of the success of the Pete Carroll era was that his players, season after season, had learned how to approach and win big games on the big stage.

The question now becomes how much continuing progress can be made in 2015 and can it be considered a legitimate building block in the return to long-lasting cardinal and gold glory?

Thanks to Ohio State, the roadmap and template for the CFP has been reaffirmed.