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Why USC is a legit 2017 playoff contender

How far can quarterback Sam Darnold take Clay Helton's USC offense? Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

Everybody starts the year undefeated. But the cruel reality of college football is that only a handful of those teams have a legitimate chance of winning the 2017 College Football Playoff.

Last year, the USC Trojans won their first Rose Bowl since the Pete Carroll era and landed a No. 3 ranking in the season-ending Associated Press poll.

That performance set a high bar for USC, but there are multiple reasons the 2017 Trojans will be able to do even better than last year's squad and earn a spot in the CFP.

(Note: Unless otherwise specified, all of the metrics detailed below are from Power 5 contests, and the associated team and player rankings are from the 65 Power 5 teams.)