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In-conference face-plants and "accountability" for USC

In the immediate wake of Saturday night's loss to Washington, Doc Saturday posted a brief article about USC's well documented habit of dropping games to unranked opponents, wondering what it would take for SC to be held "accountable" for shitting their pants in the fashion that Ohio State is hammered for losing games:

USC, though, USC is the Same Old Trojans: Win the big one, gaffe away the little one. Four straight years and counting. Again, I'll repeat myself from last September's loss in Corvallis: If Ohio State deserves to be ridiculed and scorned and run out the mythical championship picture on a rail for its primetime, big game failures, when are we going to hold USC accountable for repeatedly losing the little one?

While I take the good Doc's point about USC getting a pass for dropping games because hey, it's SC, I'm not sure what he means by "accountable."

It seems to me that when SC loses, in season, to an unranked conference opponents, the corresponding drop in the rankings is a pretty immediate result. And the result is the same: pick a season with a faceplant, any season will do, and spot the conspicuous absence of USC in the national championship. Ridicule comes with the territory, but being left out of championship games: is there a type of accountability that matters more?

Is the issue that SC isn't dropping enough because it's a recurring event? If so, what's the statute of limitations on being punished for previous seasons? Ohio State would tell you that it's a cumulative effect. The collective narrative on Ohio State is that they choke on the big stage, that they are big game bottlers. And while that's been true several times, how much are they supposed to suffer for that?

Apparently the answer is "a lot," and in large part I suspect that the reason Ohio State gets pilloried is because of the bowl losses where they can't get the immediate feedback of a ratings drop. Instead, the reputation of being unreliable in big games becomes almost like a mnemonic to remind people to rank them lower at the start of the following season - which is often expressed in statements about whether or not Ohio State is deserving.

An earlier version of this post included a couple of hundred words of frothing about the whole concept of "deserving" as a strand of the beauty pageant that is college football rankings, but fortunately for you, dear reader, Doc Saturday didn't go there. In the meantime, Spencer Hall aka Orson of EDSBS had a perfectly reasonable response about what people should be struggling to remember when they get around to filling in their pre-season polls:

The adjustment should be a slight one, yes: from an instant two spot to five, perhaps, especially based on their current qb woes. Maybe it’s best summarized in saying that instead of being assumed to be immortal, USC will now be considered "slightly killable." Whatever your terminology, the market correction stands, and will likely affect USC’s chances if a BCS logjam piles up at the end of the year. This is not 2004 USC, and for the first time in a long time, a plurality of writers and voters will tighten up their credit lines when evaluating the Trojans.

That's fairer than the treatment meted out to Ohio State. But again, if by some freak chance USC is in the aforementioned hypothetical BCS logjam, and somehow squeaked through to the championship game, it would be the first time that they've overcome the seasonal in-conference face-plant. Only then would there be a question about whether SC was accountable for a stupid in-conference loss.

The question of whether this was more than just a one-off face plant, that's something that can be chewed on right this minute.