Let the college football world scoff at USC's 17-3 win over Cal at the Coliseum this weekend. Coach Carroll isn't trying to impress anyone. The only problem is he really needs to if the Trojans are going to gain ground in a tight BCS race with only four weeks of football left before bowl season.
When a team from the SEC wins 17-3, it's a defensive struggle. Real, old-school, hard-nosed football. The way the game was meant to be played. If it's a Pac-10 team that wins 17-3, it's offensively offensive. Ugly. But don't ask Pete Carroll about style points.
The Trojans defense once again held their opponent without a touchdown - the fifth time they've done so this season - and improved their defensive points-per-game average to 6.0. Six?! With that kind of defense, you can win some football games.
Speaking of the number 6, that's now USC's place in the latest BCS rankings (one spot lower than they were on Oct. 19 when the initial BCS rankings came out). While the Trojans are not technically in the drivers seat in the Pac-10 (and they zero help from less-than-useless UCLA against Oregon State), their national championship hopes are currently being gashed by a slew of teams - most of which are from the same division - who refuse to lose, even to each other.
As the college football season dwindles down, the USC Trojans' slim chance of making the BCS Championship gained a sliver of hope with Penn State's loss to Iowa. One BCS trend remains: late season losses means less likeliness of a title game berth.
The current BCS rankings now have:
2. Texas Tech
8. Penn State
9. Boise State
So how can USC reach one of those all-important top two spots in the BCS?
Well, let's look at the remaining schedules of the teams ahead of USC and find out what, if any, hope the Trojans have.
11/15 - Mississippi State
11/29 - Auburn
12/6 - vs. No. 4 Florida
After killing Mississippi State, Bama plays Auburn in a tough rivalry game, but with the game at Alabama, I have to assume the Tide rolls. That leaves only a match up with No. 4 Florida in the SEC Championship, where a win would put either team in the BCS Championship game.
11/22 - @ No. 5 Oklahoma
11/29 - Baylor
If the Red Raiders beat Oklahoma in Norman, a rare accomplishment for any Big XII team, all they will have to do is dollop the icing on their BCS cake with a win in Lubbock over Baylor. Beat OU, and Tech can book their plane tickets. Lose to OU, and doesn't that open the door for the Sooners before the Trojans? Yes, there will be the formality of the Big XII Championship game in cold, cold Kansas City against an angry Missouri team, but Tech already beat them 56-31. While that game will be much closer to Tiger territory, a Tech loss would only muddy the BCS waters instead of clearing a path for USC.
11/15 - @ Kansas
11/27 - Texas A&M
This isn't last year's Jayhawks. With Kansas no longer among the nation's Top 25 teams, Texas has no more ranked teams to impress pollsters. The Longhorns nearly survived the toughest stretch of a schedule (facing #6, #11, #6 and #7 in back-to-back-to-back-to-back weeks), losing to Tech in Lubbock. A Texas loss gives USC room to move up, but if Texas wins out, they still would finish ahead of USC in the BCS, and rightfully so. The lone Texas loss was to the now-No. 2 team in the nation.
11/15 - No. 25 South Carolina
11/22 - Citadel
11/29 - @ No. 19 Florida State
12/6 - vs. No. 1 Alabama
The Gators have one of the tougher finishes to their regular season. Still two regular-season ranked opponents before a conference title game with No. 1 Alabama. While Florida is currently playing some of the best football in the nation (they've blown out then-No. 4 LSU and then-No. 6 Georgia this year), if they falter against "other USC" or FSU and then beat Alabama to win the SEC, that would most likely eliminate all SEC teams from a BCS title berth. It's not likely, but possible.
11/22 - No. 2 Texas Tech
11/29 - @ No. 13 Oklahoma State
The Sooner can catapult themselves right back into the thick of things with a home win over the Red Raiders in two weeks. Both teams have an off week to prepare for the game. OU can cause problems for the Big XII by beating Tech to create a three-way tie between OU, Tech and Texas for the Big XII South title. With three one-loss teams, all losing to each other, and all currently ahead of the Trojans, that still doesn't open the doors for USC. Okie State will give the Sooners their toughest test in this rivalry in recent memory. An OSU wins would have major ramifications for the Trojans waiting in the wings.
11/15 - @ Stanford
11/29 - Notre Dame
12/6 - @ UCLA
Two winnable Pac-10 games left, both on the road. A home game in the school's second-biggest rivalry against the Fighting Irish. USC needs to win out and win big. While Coach Carroll has said he doesn't want to play for style points, three big blow outs to end the season can't hurt his squad. If USC runs the table to go 11-1, here's what they'd "realistically" need to happen to get into the BCS Championship...
No. 1 Alabama beats Mississippi State
Kansas beats No. 3 Texas
No. 4 Florida beats No. 25 South Carolina
No. 6 USC beats Stanford
RESULTS: Kansas win over Texas gives Longhorns a second loss, ending their run at a national title and dropping them below USC.
2. Texas Tech
No. 2 Texas Tech beats No. 5 Oklahoma
No. 3 Florida beats Citadel
RESULTS: Oklahoma earns its second loss of the year, effectively eliminating the Sooners from national championship contention. The top of the BCS would look as follows:
2. Texas Tech**
**(slight chance Tech could jump Bama with big win @OU, but it's still meaningless as long as you're in the top 2)
Texas vs. Texas A&M no long has any bearing on National Championship picture
No. 1 Alabama beats Auburn
No. 2 Texas Tech beats Baylor
Florida State beats No. 3 Florida
No. 4 USC beats Notre Dame
Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State no longer matters as each team would have two losses
RESULTS: The biggest piece of USC's championship puzzle desperately depends on Florida losing a game between now, the second weekend of November, and the SEC Championship game. If a two-loss Florida team makes it to the SEC championship, the Trojans are in business. Alabama is playing well enough to not get tripped up, even by a big rivalry game. The BCS standings would now appear:
No. 1 Alabama
No. 2 Texas Tech
No. 3 USC
SEC Championship: Florida beats No. 1 Alabama
Big XII Championship: No. 2 Texas Tech beats Missouri
No. 3 USC beats UCLA
RESULTS: Tech wraps up the Big XII in a nice and neat fashion, leaving no doubt who should be in a BCS Bowl (unlike last year when OU beat Missouri to earn a BCS Bowl bid and bouncing 1-loss Mizzou from the BCS all together). Florida wins the SEC, and Alabama is ousted from title-game contention (unless they earn a spot like Oklahoma in '03, which went to the BCS Championship game over USC despite not winning their own conference). USC would then be the effective "last man standing" to face off against Texas Tech in the BCS Championship.
It's not simple, and it's not probable, but the Trojans still cling the life in the BCS. If it's going to happen, that's how it'll go down. If not, USC can take solace that they will probably find themselves playing in another Rose Bowl, their seventh straight BCS Bowl appearance. Oh, what a pitty.