LOS ANGELES — Before Saturday, the knock on USC was that it hadn’t beaten anybody.

Now, one-third of the way through a 3-game gauntlet that will solidify their standing as a College Football Playoff contender, that cursed epithet can be crossed off the list.

The Trojans’ 48-45 win at the Rose Bowl over hated (and ranked) UCLA was just the kind of win that impresses voters late in the season, a slug-it-out, air-it-out duel between two of the best quarterbacks in the country, won by a legitimate Heisman candidate.

True, before Saturday there was not a win over a currently Top-25 ranked opponent on the Trojans’ résumé. But while USC “hadn’t beaten anybody,” here’s what it did do: Beat down almost everybody it has faced.

And now, with 2 more games coming up against 2 ranked opponents — Notre Dame on Saturday and either Oregon, Washington or Utah in the Pac-12 title game — the Trojans have their chance to prove their worth for the league’s first CFP bid since 2016.


There’s something to be said for delivering a knockout blow, and USC has landed a handful of heavy-handed haymakers this season. We’ll get to the stats later and just let the margins do the talking:

  • 52-point win over Rice.
  • 38-point win over Colorado.
  • 28-point win over Fresno State, which is currently 7-4 and winners of 5 straight.
  • 17-point win over Arizona State.
  • 16-point win over Washington State, which is currently 7-4 and winners of 3 straight.
  • 13-point win over Stanford.
  • 8-point win over Arizona, which has one of the most improved offenses in the country.
  • 3-point win over Oregon State, which is 8-3 and fielding its best team in a decade.
  • 3-point win at then-No. 16 UCLA, which is 8-3 and features one of the best offenses in the country.
  • 1-point loss at then-No. 20 Utah, which is 8-3 and the reigning Pac-12 champion.

There’s not a stubbed toe in the lot. Even the lone loss to Utah is respectable — a 1-point loss at the team that before Saturday had climbed to No. 10 in the country.

There may be only 1 win over (current) Top 25 opponents, but there also aren’t unforgivable losses.

USC is 1 of just 3 1-loss teams in the country — and guaranteed to be joined by a 4th on Saturday, when No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan square off — the Trojans have somehow skipped the gopher holes that have tripped up every Pac-12 champion for a half-decade.

The classic scenario: Back in 2019, 9-1 Oregon was ranked 6th in the country when they lost at Arizona State in Week 12. No. 7 Utah slid into its spot, and the following week, when 10-1 Alabama lost, the Utes moved up to No. 5. So what happened next? Utah lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game the same day Georgia lost to LSU in the SEC title game, allowing Oklahoma to sneak into the CFP.

Even worse: Last season, the Pac-12 champion Utes lost back-to-back games in Weeks 2 and 3, eliminating them from CFP contention 3 weeks in.

That USC has not had that followed down the Pac-12’s well-treaded path to pain and misery should be rewarded itself.


OK, now back to the stats, because they really are that good.

USC’s current national rankings:

  • 1st in turnover margin (1.91)
  • 1st in turnovers lost (4)
  • 2nd in total offense (513.0 yards per game)
  • 2nd in 3rd down conversion percentage (.543)
  • 3rd in scoring offense (42.7)
  • 4th in passing offense (330.8)
  • 6th in team passing efficiency (168.47)

They’ve done all that despite battling myriad injuries on both sides of the ball — linebackers Shane Lee and Eric Gentry at different parts of the season, wide receivers Jordan Addison and Mario Williams for chunks of time, running back Travis Dye for the season — and under a brand new head coaching staff and system.

With an obvious Heisman finalist in quarterback Caleb Williams, the Trojans have simply been electric on offense. Williams has completed 250-of-385 passes for 3,480 yards and 33 touchdowns with 3 interceptions, as well as 316 rushing yards on 88 carries with 7 TDs.

Williams is on pace to become USC’s all-time single-season passing leader and headed toward the lowest interception rate in program history. He currently ranks No. 3 nationally in points responsible for per game (21.8), 4th in passing TDs (33) and total offense (345.1), 6th in passing yards (3,480), 8th in passing yards per completion (13.92), and 9th in passing efficiency (167.6).

After outdueling Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the battle of Los Angeles’ two great quarterbacks, Williams soared up Heisman lists and looks like Lincoln Riley’s third Heisman winner (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were transfers, too, by the way).

Will all those stats be enough to convince CFP selectors that USC is deserving of a Final Four spot?


It’ll come down to the next 2 weeks, as the Trojans have arguably the toughest schedule out of the rest of their CFP-contending competitors.

No. 2 Ohio State squares off against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, but the winner will advance to face either a Big Ten West champ with at least 3 league losses. Not impressive. TCU’s Week 13 foe — Iowa State — is even less impressive. The Horned Frogs will meet Kansas State or Texas in the Big 12 title game. LSU tangles with a down Texas A&M squad this week before facing Georgia in the SEC title game, and Clemson will meet South Carolina before taking on North Carolina in the ACC title game.

None of that compares to playing Notre Dame and Oregon/Washington/Utah.

If USC takes care of business — and especially if they dole out a beat down — their case will be made.

They deserve to be in the Playoff.