Seven Reasons Why USC Deserves No. 1 Ranking
by Trevor Whenham - 09/05/2008
Whether you like it or not, USC is destined to have a pretty darned good season. They had questions coming into the 2008 campaign, but they went a long way towards dispelling those concerns in their dominating season-opening win over Virginia. If you missed it, the Trojans scheduled a potentially challenging opening game against the Cavaliers, a major conference opponent, unlike most other serious national contenders. It could have been close, but it really, really wasn't. USC won 52-7, and if possible it wasn't even as close as the score.
I'm not totally convinced that USC is going to make it to the BCS Championship. I'm not even totally convinced that they are going to beat Ohio State in a week and a half. Let's pretend for a second, though, that I was a blind optimist about this team. The AP jumped the team up to the top of the poll, so it wouldn't be totally unreasonable to think that they are the best team out there. If I thought that, then here are the seven arguments I would make to support my case.
1. Mark Sanchez should be just fine. There were some concerns about the quarterback going into the season. He had a sore knee, and he was only okay in limited action in the past. It's just one game, but there is little doubt that he is ready for prime time. Virginia isn't an elite team but they are solid. Sanchez made them look like a junior college squad. He completed three quarters of his passes for 338 yards. He had three touchdowns and just one interception. He looked confident and comfortable. He has work to do - he had three tipped passes - but in one game the Trojans proved that their pivot should be at least comparable to the other teams likely to land in the BCS.
2. They have a week off before Ohio State. The Buckeyes are obviously the best team USC will face this year. The Trojans will likely be favored in the game anyway, but they will also have the edge of better preparation - they don't have a game this weekend, so they have two full weeks to get ready for the big matchup. They had a game against a reasonably legitimate team to get a sense of what they have, and now they have two weeks to plan and assess, and they won't give the Buckeyes any more game tape to study.
3. Ridiculous rushing depth. Five different running backs scored against Virginia. Yes, five. Four on the ground, and one through the air. Coach Carroll has a real challenge on his hands keeping all of those players happy through the season, but it's a great kind of problem to have. That depth is nothing new for this team, but it will allow the Trojans to do all sorts of creative things to keep opposing defenses off balance. Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable both have superstar potential, and the rest are good enough to keep the starters on their toes. Teams, including Ohio State, have a back as good or better than what USC has, but no team has as many.
4. The O-line is better than expected. Coming into the season it seemed possible that the o-line was the potential problem for the team. It still may be, but it's not the problem it once was. Virginia tried everything they could think of to agitate the offense, yet the line stood up well, giving Sanchez all the time he needed, and giving the running game more space than it expected. There could still be issues going forward, but things look better than they seemed.
5. Ronald Johnson is ready for the next step. Johnson is a wildly talented receiver. As a freshman last year, though, he never found chemistry with John David Booty, and he found only moderate success. Things were completely different with Sanchez. Johnson had a spectacular 49-yard touchdown, and a couple other catches. He has the tools to be a star, and his emergence will certainly be a boost for this team.
6. Clay Matthews is looking like a star. A good defensive end is always a good thing. The well-bred senior hasn't been a regular starter before this year, but he has been a special teams star. This year he is starting, and his flexibility - he can play end or linebacker - makes him valuable. If his first game was any indication then he could be in for a big year. He had six tackles, a sack, and he forced a fumble and recovered it.
7. The strength of the conference will help. To make the championship game you need to stay at the top of the polls. USC should be able to beat any team in the conference if they are at their best. The conference had a very strong first week, though, and showed that they could be better than people expected. That strength will help the perception of the Trojans and will help keep them where they need to be in the poll as long as they keep winning.