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USC Football 2015: Phil Steele Pencils Trojans into CFB Playoff

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College Football guru Phil Steele projects the USC Trojans to make the playoffs.

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College Football "super-fans" look forward each offseason to the release of analyst Phil Steele's breakdown and predictions of the upcoming season. Steele's "encyclopedia," if you will, is one of the more anticipated analyses of preseason college football, and immediately jumping from the page is that Steele is quite high on the USC Trojans to have a wildly successful 2015 campaign.

In his preseason ranking of the top 40, Steele has the Trojans ranked third, right behind the TCU Horned Frogs and defending national champion Ohio State. Steele has high projections for the Pac-12 Conference in general, as 7 of 12 are featured in his top 40: USC (3), Stanford (7), Oregon (11), UCLA (15), Utah (27), Arizona State (29), and Arizona (34).

More interesting to note, however, is that Steele projects the Trojans to remain top of the order in the conference by earning a berth in the College Football Playoff as the No. 4-seed. Steele has the Trojans squaring off with No. 1-seed Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, and No. 2-seed TCU is pitted against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl Classic, with the Buckeyes and Horned Frogs the victors in both semifinals.

Steele isn't too far off in proclaiming the Trojans to be a playoff contender, however. The Trojans benefit from a favorable home schedule, facing conference foes Stanford, Utah, Arizona, and UCLA all at the Coliseum. Should the Trojans be able to handle the hype of a high preseason ranking and take care of business (they are already early Vegas favorites in all of those contests), a berth in not only the Pac-12 Title Game and the Playoff isn't far out of reach. Of course, the Trojans must maintain a similar focus in daunting road tests at Notre Dame and Oregon.

Should Steele's early projections hold water, the Orange Bowl semifinal between USC and Ohio State would certainly be one for the ages—the Trojan defense would be tasked with containing Buckeye Heisman contenders RB Ezekiel Elliott, and QB Braxton Miller/J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones. Assuming that the Trojan defense remains healthy, expect linebacker-safety Su'a Cravens, outside linebacker Scott Felix and defensive end Claude Pelon to step up and exceed in such a role. It is in this area that I would have to disagree with Steele—the Trojans would certainly be capable of hanging with the Buckeyes and pulling the upset for a spot in the National Championship Game, and the Orange Bowl is of course a neutral-site.

Though the Trojans—as do the other three teams Steele projected to be playoff-bound—have a tough road ahead of them toward maintaining a top national rank and playoff berth, it is most certainly achievable, and Steele's early postseason forecast has the Trojan faithful looking ahead to what should be a memorable 2015.