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What has to happen for USC to make the College Football Playoff?

A fairly simple four point plan to get USC into the College Football Playoff

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Penn State vs Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2016 Rose Bowl win will forever be a highlight of Head Coach Clay Helton and QB Sam Darnold’s USC careers, in 2017 the two will look to take the program to the next level. That means locking in and completing all the steps to get the Trojans into the 2017 College Football Playoff. Though, what are these steps? What has to happen for the 2017 USC Trojans to make the CFB? Let’s take a look.

1. Number one on the list is to win the marquee matchup with Texas. USC may have been able to make an outside push for the playoff last season, if they hadn’t performed so poorly vs Alabama, getting blown out 52-6 in the season opener. A playoff berth in 2016 was unlikely anyway after starting 1-3, but any consideration they may have received was quickly extinguished by that awful score line.

Therefore, USC needs to beat Texas, and it would not hurt to beat them handily, considering Texas will most likely enter the game as underdogs.

2. Next on the list is to win the PAC-12. Now, I’m sure if you ask anyone around the USC program, they’ll tell you this is the priority. Which, in fairness, it should be since winning the conference is an integral component of any national title charge, unless you’re Oklahoma in 2003. However, if USC is going to win the PAC-12 there are two things that must be accomplished.


Avoid the trap game on the road. USC always has that road conference game where everything seems to break down. No one can tackle, none of the receivers seem to be able to get open, and whoever is playing Quarterback can’t even hit the ground, from one knee with a pass. In 2014 and 2016 it was against Utah, in 2015 it was a dreadful afternoon in Eugene, Oregon.

In 2017, everything points to Friday night vs Washington State on September 29th. Now it is understandable if people have the Saturday, November 11th game vs Colorado the week before UCLA circled as their trap game. However, USC plays Colorado yearly, as a PAC-12 rival, and will have them directly in their sights, knowing they need to win the South division to play in the title game. USC though has not played Washington State since 2014 and a Friday night game in Pullman could be an issue.


Beat Stanford, and do so matching their physicality. Stanford is not the big bad boogieman of the PAC-12, but they are the ones responsible for smashing the mystique off the USC program. They have lined up and dominated USC in the trenches since 2009, sure USC has squeaked out a few wins in the years since, but not in the dominant way USC fans are used to seeing. For USC to put the PAC-12 and the rest of the country on notice, that this isn’t flash in a pan, but the flare signaling a return to dominance.

They must come out and beat Stanford by dominating the line of scrimmage, knock them around on defense and run the ball on offense. If USC can do this to one of the most physical teams in the PAC-12 early, it will do wonders for setting the tone for the rest of the season.

3. If USC is able to take care of these things while staying healthy, there is little doubt they’ll make the playoff. But there is one last thing that needs to happen to erase that last bit of doubt, the PAC-12 must be strong. While it is rare these days for a team to make it to the playoffs without one loss, winning the marquee match ups and winning your conference goes a long way to helping the resume.

4. Though, the best thing is to come from a strong conference, if the other PAC-12 teams can do well in their non-conference games and then lose to USC it will elevate the overall perception of the conference, making it a lot easier for the committee to not only give USC a berth but make sure they don’t have to travel to SEC territory for the first game.

Let’s review:

  • Beat Texas
  • Win the PAC-12

(Avoid trap games, man-handle Stanford)

  • Stay healthy
  • Have the rest of the PAC-12 win their non-conference games

Fairly simple, right?