Trojans addressing penalties, third downs

LOS ANGELES -- There are 120 teams in the top division of the NCAA, commonly known as the FBS.

Out of those 120, the USC Trojans rank 112th in third-down efficiency, and precisely 120th -- as in last -- in penalties per game, meaning they've earned more flags than any other team in the country through six contests.

They're converting just over 30 percent of their third downs and committing 10 penalties a game. Outside of lowly Eastern Michigan, no FBS team has been converting at a rate worse than 27 percent, and there are 17 teams operating at 50 percent or better.

So those are bad numbers. Actually, those are terrible numbers. A preseason No. 1 team ranked in the bottom 10 in the nation in any category has to be a sizable surprise.

But that's the position the underachieving Trojans are in right now. And coach Lane Kiffin himself said he never would have expected USC to be so poor in third-down situations. But he also doesn't seem to think it'll last, saying Tuesday that his team will "clean it up this week."

"Coming home should help, too," he said.

Without getting into advanced statistics, there does appear to be some sort of negative correlation between penalties committed and wins earned so far this season in the FBS. The five teams to commit the most penalties per game are a combined 24-5, and the five teams to commit the fewest are 18-12.

There also appears to be some sort of Pac-12-wide tendency to commit more penalties. Five of the bottom 10 teams in penalties per game are in USC's conference.

But still, 10 penalties a game are not good, no matter how you look at it. Especially when they're mostly happening on offense.

USC has committed 31 penalties on offense. Kansas State, another top 10 BCS team, has committed 30 total penalties, meaning on offense, defense and special teams.

That might be the biggest sign of all that the Trojans' offense has been a disappointment this season.

Kiffin probably is right when he says coming home and playing Colorado will help those numbers. USC figures to convert more than 50 percent of its third-down attempts against the Buffaloes, and there's also a good chance the Trojans will commit fewer than eight penalties -- their previous low this season.

But these statistics need to change quickly and drastically, and not just this week either.