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Reeling Trojans still in Pac-12 title chase

first_imgFor the first time since joining the Pac-12, the Utah Utes will come into a game against USC that both teams would consider critical. Granted, this is only the third time the Trojans and the Utes will have met as conference foes, but I certainly didn’t think three years ago that the Utes would ever be on the same level as USC.The Trojans won each of the last two matchups with a less-than-dominating performance. The Trojans won the 2011 meeting 23-14 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and then won last year 38-28 in Salt Lake City. USC is currently a seven-point favorite for Saturday’s tilt, but there’s really no way to predict how either of these two teams will play.At times, USC has looked dominant. Sure, the team’s top form has been limited to four quarters against a bad Boston College team and three quarters against a decent Arizona team, but the potential is there for USC to play better on both sides of the ball.Utah comes in as a much better team than its 1-3 conference record shows. Two of those losses came against ranked teams, with the Utes losing to Oregon State 51-48 in overtime and then to UCLA 34-27. Even more impressive was the team’s 27-21 upset win over Stanford two weeks ago, back when the Cardinal were still unbeaten and in the top five of the AP poll. The Utes, however, came out flat against Arizona last week, the mere Trojan victory in conference play this year, in a 35-24 loss.So in a nutshell, pretty much anything can happen in the Pac-12 this season, and there’s really no good way for me to predict how things will go Saturday.But there is an important thing to take away from that: USC could still win the Pac-12 South this year and play the North champion for a spot in the Rose Bowl.Yes, a team that lost its first two conference games of the season to equal or weaker opponents and hasn’t even faced one of the top conference foes could still legitimately win the conference.Let’s say the Trojans take care of business against Utah. That leaves Colorado and Cal on the schedule, two teams that USC should beat, as well as Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford, who are all presently ranked. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Trojans could catch fire down the stretch, pull everything together and finish the year 7-2 in conference play.If UCLA wins all of its games heading into the Coliseum, and Arizona State’s lone loss from this point on is against UCLA, all three teams would be tied at 7-2 atop the Pac-12 South, and BCS ranking would likely determine the tiebreaker. Or, if USC runs the table, UCLA loses to Oregon tomorrow (a likely outcome) and to the Trojans and Arizona State loses to UCLA and Oregon State (also likely), USC wouldn’t even need the tiebreaker.If UCLA and Arizona State both finish 6-3, then the Trojans can afford losing to Stanford and just need big wins over Oregon State and UCLA, which doesn’t seem as out of reach as beating Stanford, then keep their fingers crossed for the tiebreaker.Now here’s one last hypothetical. Let’s say USC beats Cal and Colorado, but doesn’t pull through against Utah, doesn’t upset Oregon State in Corvallis, doesn’t upset Stanford on Homecoming and has another heartbreaker to UCLA on the last game of the season.In that scenario, USC finishes the season at 6-7— emphasis on the word finishes— because 6-7 probably means no bowl game for the Trojans.So with so much of the season left to play and so many possibilities still on the table for USC, this Saturday is a crucial fork in the road for the Trojans’ season. Not only will the game have an impact on this season’s final record, but how the Trojans finish will also have an enormous impact on this year’s recruiting class, which currently ranks outside the ESPN Top 25, as well as Athletic Director Pat Haden’s coaching search. The better the team finishes, the more attractive the USC job appears to potential candidates.But enough with looking so far ahead. Utah might be a very solid team, but it is also a very beatable team, just like every team left on the Trojans’ schedule. The path to Pasadena sounds crazy right now, and it still would be pretty crazy even if the Trojans beat the Utes. But there is absolutely still a chance, which is about all you can ask for at a time like this. “Holthouse Party” runs every other Friday. To comment on this story, email Luke at [email protected] or visit dailytrojan.com.last_img

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