After a disappointing start to the 2018 season, with consecutive losses to Stanford and Texas, it seems like there’s a cap to how much the USC Trojans can achieve this season. It seems hard to be optimistic with just a 3-2 record going into the bye week. Conference match-ups against Colorado, Utah, Arizona State, and Cal can all be trap games, and cannot be penciled in as wins as was the case in previous seasons.
Still, everything besides a College Football Playoff berth is possible for the Trojans. This is USC’s best case scenario.
USC can run the table. Yes, every aforementioned conference match-up can be a trap game, especially if USC rattles off a few big wins, rests on its laurels, and becomes complacent. Still, USC will have a talent advantage in every remaining game, besides in the last game of the season at home versus Notre Dame.
USC controls its Pac-12 South destiny, and winning every remaining game will give the Trojans a shot at the Pac-12 Championship, and a berth to a New Year’s Six Bowl. College Football Playoff bowls alternate with the New Year’s Six Bowls, and the non-playoff bowls this year are the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl. The Rose Bowl has a deal with the Pac-12 to take in its best non-playoff team; given that USC is likely out of the running for the playoff, the chance at the Rose Bowl is an incredible consolation prize.
USC’s next six games are against conference opponents, and only Oregon State and UCLA are opponents that USC should dominate from start to finish. USC can win each game.
In order to do so, the Trojans must play more cohesively on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. USC’s defense has talent across the board, but a poor pass-rush and run-stopping has prevented the USC secondary from being more impactful. Receivers given all day to get open will inevitably get open at some point, and quarterbacks who have forever to find their target naturally make better decisions with the ball. A secondary featuring Iman Marshall and Marvell Tell should have more takeaways through the air.
For USC’s offense to dominate, the offensive line needs to pull it together. Senior Toa Lobendahn was an All-Pac-12 selection just last year, and he is playing his natural position at center. If he had declared for the draft last year, he would have been drafted. Instead, completed snaps have become an issue. A unit complete with three seniors in Lobendahn, Chris Brown, and Chuma Edoga should not have as many issues as it does.
With the offensive line clicking, USC’s offense would be more unstoppable than it already is. In the first drive against Washington State, USC opened the game with five runs for 75 yards and a touchdown. The whole drive was just five plays, and it felt like the USC offensive line was finally playing up to its ability.
If USC’s offensive line can finally play up to par, the Trojans will be able to score on anybody. The running game will be dominant, and JT Daniels will have all day to throw to Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. In the best case scenario, Daniels grows into a dominant college quarterback, and the Daniels-St. Brown connection becomes the most potent in football. Stephen Carr becomes more assertive and shows that he can be a true feature back for next year.
The season is in peril, but it is not lost. The best case scenario for USC’s 2018 season is for both the offensive and defensive fronts to step up. If they can do so, USC has a real shot at upsetting Notre Dame in the final game of the season and winning the Pac-12, and potentially avenging the loss to Stanford in the process.