Tom Dienhart posted something about Southern Cal that made me think (yes, there’s a first time for everything, it seems). Take a look at this chart he compiled:
Most draft picks since 2005
Ohio State: 30
Florida State: 26
Virginia Tech: 24
Yep, that’s right – in the past five years, the Trojans have had almost fifty percent more players drafted into the NFL than the next team on the list. That’s one helluva spread.
But USC hasn’t won a national title in that time. In fact, the program has only played in one BCS title game in the last five years.
As Dienhart points out, that’s because the Trojans have gotten into a bad habit of losing a game or two a season to a clearly inferior conference opponent.
… In 2006, losses at Oregon State and UCLA were USC’s undoing. In 2007, USC was dumped at home by 41-point underdog Stanford in the greatest upset in college football history; the Trojans also lost at Oregon. Last year, the Trojans were stunned at Oregon State when Beavers true freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 186 yards and two TDs against a USC defense that had eight players drafted over the weekend.
Does Pete Carroll deserve some criticism for what seems like a now annual practice of having his team crap the bed like that? Absolutely. However, one other thing that comes to mind with this is how small the margin for error is for Southern Cal. Don’t forget that last year’s team finished with the same number of losses as the national champion Gators; the same can be said for the ’07 Trojans. Yet neither squad was seriously in the mix to play in the BCS title game either season, even though many thought that by year’s end, the 2007 edition was playing the best football in the country and the 2008 team was by far the best defensive team in the nation.
Nor was it a matter of schedule strength. Sagarin ranks Southern Cal’s strength of schedule at 29th for 2007 and 16th for 2008 – not the best, but certainly more than credible, especially given the fact that Ohio State played in the title game two seasons ago with the 53rd-ranked SOS.
What I do think is a problem for the Trojans is the conference they play in. Even with the yearly slip ups, they still wind up dominating the Pac-10, having won seven conference titles in a row now. There’s no other team that has emerged in that time period as a credible, consistent rival that the public can measure USC against.
Also, there’s no conference championship game for Southern Cal to play in. Don’t get me wrong – I actually think the Pac-10′s round robin format is the ideal way to structure a conference’s football season. But if you look at the recent trend of which schools play in the BCS title game, it’s apparent that not having a conference championship game leaves the Trojans at a disadvantage when it comes to the postseason.
The BCS title game is eleven years old now. During that time, a school from a conference with a championship game has played for the MNC in all but two of the games. There hasn’t been a BCS title game without a team that won a conference championship game since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
I can think of several factors for that. A conference championship is a high profile game, so it gives the poll voters one more chance to see a team win against very good competition. As was the case with LSU in 2007, it can provide an opportunity for redemption for a team that suffered its share of regular season disappointments. It provides a strength of schedule boost to the winner that the computers absorb in their calculations for the BCS rankings. And, as USC learned to its chagrin in 2003, sometimes there’s not as much of a downside to a conference title loss in the minds of the voters and computers as there is in a regular season defeat.
I’m not a huge fan of conference title games. Like I said, I think a round robin schedule is a far superior means for determining a conference champion. But given the extra revenue such a game generates as well as the impact it has on the postseason order, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the new Pac-10 commissioner take a look at going that way.