Does USC Football Deserve To Be Ranked After Winning Streak?

USC football remains on the outside looking in for both the AP and coaches polls, but does Trojans’ turnaround deserves more recognition from voters?

The release of the Week 11 editions of the AP Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll prompted debate on Twitter over the proper rating of USC football, which failed to make the cut in either ranking Sunday morning.

It started with the USA Today’s Dan Wolken, bemoaning the voters’ decision to leave USC out of both Top 25s despite their fifth-straight victory on Saturday night over Oregon.

The impressive 45-20 win gave the Trojans enough votes to sit at the cusp of a ranking, but not enough to push them over the top as the first team out in both polls.

Wolken urged voters to watch the games and see for themselves how far USC has come since September when they fell to 1-3 and looked dead in the water. In a later tweet, he argued that since the quarterback change to Sam Darnold, the Trojans have evolved and have played impressively since.

Of course, not everyone on Twitter was buying what Wolken was selling, including NBC Sport’s Kevin McGuire.

McGuire offered a counter point to Wolken, noting USC’s embarrassing losses to Alabama and Stanford, along with the lack of signature victories for the Trojans.

So here’s the question: Do the Trojans deserve to be ranked as they head north for a pivotal game with Washington?

USC’s case for a ranking isn’t perfect. As McGuire correctly points out, only two of the Trojans six wins have come against teams with winning records.

Moreover, there are only two teams in the Top 25 with three losses to their name in Week 11 — LSU and Florida State.

The Tigers’ three losses are to teams currently ranked No. 8, No. 7 and No. 1. The Seminoles have lost to the No. 15, No. 5 and No. 3 teams in the AP.

USC’s losses to No. 1 Alabama, No. 13 Utah and unranked Stanford don’t exactly hold up.

However, no one is suggesting the Trojans deserve a ranking near No. 19 LSU or No. 20 Florida State.

Nov 5, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a pass against the Oregon Ducks during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Actually, the question really revolves around just one team, the one which just made the Top 25 while USC sits outside — the 25th-ranked Baylor Bears.

It certainly raised some eyebrows when Baylor, who just came off a 40-point drubbing at the hands of unranked TCU, maintained a place in the Top 25 this week.

One good way to separate the 6-2 Bears and the 6-3 Trojans is with advanced statistics. For instance, the S&P+ rankings, which is an opponent-adjusted measure, rated USC 13th in the country. Baylor checks in at No. 30.

That’s because Baylor’s six wins simply aren’t as impressive as USC’s whether measuring opposition or performance. In fact, they have just one victory against an opponent with a winning record. And while the Trojans were being slapped with their first of three losses on the season against Alabama, Baylor was notching their first of six wins against FCS opponent Northwestern State.

The Trojans and Bears boast an equal number of victories, but one more loss for USC, regardless of the strength of that loss, has set the men of Troy back.

Baylor serves as a case study, but USC could argue its merit compared to Boise State, Washington State and even Florida among teams which got the nod in the rankings above them in similar fashion.

The AP and coaches release their polls on Sunday, but the only opinion that matters — however little in this case — is the college football playoff rankings.

The committee settled Washington at No. 5 in their first Top 25, making a statement about the importance of strength of schedule.

Will the committee acknowledge that three-loss USC opened the season with an impossible match up against increasingly unbeatable Alabama, the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation?

That the Trojans succumbed to a Stanford squad still riding high with Christian McCaffrey, whose absence helps account for the Cardinals’ fall from grace since beating Clay Helton’s team?

That USC’s third loss came by four points in the final seconds of a Friday night match up, on a week of short rest, in one of the toughest venues in college football, to the current No. 13 team in the country?

Most critically, will the committee take into account the turn around of USC’s offense under Sam Darnold or the resurgence of the Trojan defense, which has allowed an average of 19 points per game during the win streak against teams which collectively average better than 33 points per game.

While USC’s quality of victory has not been elite, they have knocked off ranked Colorado and

If there’s any great flaw with voters in the AP and coaches polls, it’s an over-reliance on win-loss records, rather than an understanding of how well a given team is playing, regardless of their record.

The USC team of September did not deserve to be ranked, but this Trojan squad, the one which has sorted out its offense and has come into its own on defense, does warrant recognition in the national polls.

Will the committee get it right? We’ll see.

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