I'm not a fan of preseason polls. There are too many questions and too many unknowns. The MSM always looks for what's sexy and for what drives ratings. This is why the MSM has a hard time earning credibility from responsible fans. Like most SC fans I was proud of the run that Pete Carroll put together before it came to an end on Jan. 4th.
SC fans were quick to focus on the coming season and many were anxious to see how Coach Carroll would do in the recruiting wars that were already underway. Regardless of how well he did there was no doubt that the 2006 team would look significantly different than it did the previous season.
When the initial polls came out the coaches had SC at #3, tied with ND. The AP had SC at #6. It was like it was no big deal SC will just pick up where they left off and start on another incredible run. Now, I have said numerous times that there was no way SC could be ranked realistically with all the new faces that would be on the team this season. There were "Just Too Many Questions". It is hard to judge talent that hasn't played as team yet.
So now that USC has had 2 tough wins in the past two weeks against what some would call "lesser" teams, a number of columnists are running for cover. Stewart Mandel fires the first salvo:
Yes, the Trojans are still one of the premier teams in the nation. Yes, we've been spoiled the past few years by otherworldly offenses that make comparisons to this year's team unfair. But I don't know how anyone could look at USC's last two performances against the dregs of the Pac-10 (a 20-3 win at Arizona and a 28-22 nail-biter at Washington State) and conclude that this team is playing better than Michigan, which currently trails the Trojans by four spots in the coaches' poll.
I think that's a fair criticism. SC has not played up to "expectations" in the minds of some. But the bigger question is why was USC put up that high in the first place? If SC was placed in a realistic position in the polls they could continue to grind out wins, keep under the radar and no one would be the wiser. The polls are delicate. One loss at the wrong time and you could be out of a major bowl game. On the other hand if you are not ranked high enough in the preseason it could make that much more difficult for you to get to the big game, just ask Auburn in 2004.
CFN also pulls back with its prediction of USC in the BCS title game. Instead they now have SC and Michigan playing the Rose Bowl. The writers at CFN didn't give an explanation but the message is loud and clear. Was USC's original poll position correct? I don't think so, but we all have our own opinions. It would have been fair to SC in the Top 10 of the preseason polls but necessarily the Top 5. Again, in my opinion there were just too many questions about this new team.
USC is actually in a pretty good spot. If they win out they have an excellent chance at getting back to the title game. The way the schedule plays out for our opponents there will be a lot of one-loss teams near the top. I believe team chemistry is very important and I think that last weekend showed that some of our younger players were reading a few too many press clippings before the game against WSU. It is always better to play with house money. If SC has to fight a little bit harder for those wins it is easier to do it without all the attention and the hype that MSM has heaped on them of late. I think that is part of why they lost the Rose Bowl, all that attention can make you a little heady and may cause you to lose focus.
In the end SC will be fine. Actual game experience is what makes a better team. I don't care how they look on paper because the games are not played on paper. A few more tough wins under their belt that will help build character and they will be ready for toughest part of the schedule.
I know it is pie-in-the-sky, but it would be nice if the MSM could wait until more of the facts are in before turning on the hype machine.