The 2017 season started with hopes for a spot in the College Football Playoffs and a top-four ranking in the pre-season polls. However if you were to ask anyone on the USC football team including head coach Clay Helton, the goal was to win the Pac-12 Championship. The Trojans had a favorable Pac-12 schedule, but there was a challenge involved. USC would have no bye week unless they made the Pac-12 Championship game.
Early tests against Stanford, WSU
The first test would be their conference opener against Stanford. A team that always gave the Trojans fits. USC would pass this with flying colors by making a statement in their win over the Cardinal at home. The next two games on the road would push the Trojans. While taking a ten point win over Cal, that game turned out to be a fight for three quarters and saw Cal lead the Trojans in the game.
Their next game would be a Friday night game in Pullman, Washington against Washington State. A game the Trojans wished they had back. USC would be handed their first loss of the season. USC would be without some key starters on the offensive line and key rotational players. Some would say the three point loss to the Cougars cost the Trojans a shot at the College Football Playoffs.
Midseason struggles almost derail season
One of the games that could get Pac-12 Game of the year was USC’s meeting with Utah. This was a game where the winner had control of the Pac-12 South. We also saw the tale of two different USC teams. The first half saw the Trojans offense struggle and have two turnovers that led to two Utah scores.
Sam Darnold also struggled fumbling three times in the first half. The second half saw a much different USC team. Down 21-7 at the half, the Trojans rallied to score 21 unanswered to take the lead. Big moment came in the last seconds of the game where Utah score and went for two to take the win in Los Angeles. USC cornerback Ajanee Harris would make the game winning tackle.
Team finishes strong en route to title win
USC would go on to handedly win their game on the road against Arizona State, however despite building decent leads against Arizona and Colorado they saw the two roar back into games. USC would indeed use the 4th quarter to put them away to clinch the Pac-12 South before their crosstown meeting with UCLA. Suffering a case of possibly looking ahead to the Pac-12 Championship, USC had to once again fight to get a win over the Bruins.
The Pac-12 Championship saw another meeting against the Stanford Cardinal. This time USC wouldn’t have the same statement win like their week 2 meeting. Instead USC would be in for another fight and have another key defensive moment to save the game. With Stanford on the 2 and threatening to take the lead, the USC defense would have a goal line stand to preserve the lead and shift all momentum. USC would win their first conference championship since 2008.
While their Cotton Bowl showing was less than stellar, USC winning 11 games and the Pac-12 Championship with no bye week was an accomplishment in terms of conference play. USC did what they had to do against their opponents in the Pac-12. If it wasn’t for a hiccup on Friday night in Pullman, you could say the Trojans would be playing in the College Football Playoffs right about now.
In terms of their play, you could say USC benefited from an underwhelming Pac-12 slate. You could also say USC showed the ability to battle and pull away, but showed the inability to put inferior opponents away as they should. This played a part in them not really being considered for the College Football Playoffs.
Simply put—on paper USC handled business, but the eye test showed that USC in some ways underperformed against inferior competition.