Playoff expectations for Trojans this year are premature

There sure is a lot of early preseason love right now for the Trojans.

It’s understandable to be optimistic about where things stand with this USC team as the roster is full of talent and the program is beginning the climb back to full strength following NCAA sanctions, but to see the Trojans projected as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff? Let’s hold off on that one for a second.

That’s not to say the Trojans aren’t capable of putting together the kind of season that would result in making the playoff. There is a veteran quarterback who will be on most Heisman watch lists, a collection of versatile skill players who can rival any team in the country and an offensive line that should be vastly improved with the entire group returning intact.

There should also be improved depth with a roster that will be in the mid-70s in terms of numbers. It’s not quite at the NCAA limit of 85 but it’s a lot better number than the one the Trojans have been operating under in recent years. Not only will this manifest itself on the practice field with more live hitting and translate to more available contributors during games but you can’t forget about the impact it will have on the psyche of the team. No matter how much the players and coaches would say the roster limits had no effect on them, the reality was there and after a while it couldn’t be ignored. To see that slowly fade away and to know that they are that much closer to full strength is going to be a huge boost for the mental state of all involved.

With that being said, however, there is a long way to go before USC fans should start making reservations for the Orange or Cotton bowls. This is still a team that finished 9-4 last season, and lost their best defensive player to the NFL along with the leading rusher and receiver. There is still a coaching staff that is finding its way in its second year at USC, one that has seen great success on the recruiting trail and is looking to see those efforts pay off on the field. There is also the matter of some other pretty decent teams in the Pac-12 that the Trojans will face along the way. The conference is as strong as ever and it’s important to remember that, before USC can even make the playoff, there would have to be a first-ever appearance in the conference title game, and that would only come after road games in Tempe and Eugene, as well as the oh-so-important season finale against the Bruins.

It would certainly make a statement for Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans if they can navigate all that and make a legitimate run at the top of the college football mountain again. I don’t think it would surprise too many people to see USC back in that realm in the next few years, but to see it happen this year would be a little ahead of schedule. Of course, the possibility is part of what makes college football so exciting.