How many times do college football teams get a second chance?
Take Oklahoma, for example. One conference loss to Kansas State, and the Sooners were out of it in the Big XII.
For USC, though, the loss to Stanford didn’t end its shot at the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl. Neither did the loss to Arizona. Not even the loss to Oregon ended their conference title dreams. So not only did they get second and third chances, but now they get a fourth chance. The Trojans still control their destiny. Win two games, and go play Oregon again for the conference championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl. It’s actually pretty amazing. You can’t really argue that they deserve it. And if they were in the Pac-12 North instead of the South, it wouldn’t be the case. But sometimes the system works against you, and sometimes it works for you. This year, it's working for the Trojans.
While that is nice for USC fans, and certainly a conference championship and a major bowl berth would be fantastic, the bigger question is all about how these Trojans respond. After all, if they don’t play better than they’ve been playing, this fourth chance will look a lot like the first three.
USC gets to start its rebound against an ASU team that, while coming off three straight losses to top 20 teams, is a pretty good team. The Sun Devils probably have the best defense USC has played against this season -- certainly the best pass defense -- with a lot of the same personnel that gave the Trojans fits a year ago in Tempe. ASU runs a spread offense that isn’t Oregon's, or even Arizona's, but is still dangerous. For a USC team that found a way to lose to Arizona and played an abysmal defensive game last week, it could certainly lose to the Sun Devils.
At practice on Tuesday, Ed Orgeron was all over the defensive players, urging them to improve, get off blocks, tackle. There was a lot of work on fundamentals. Matt Barkley has been challenged by his coach to throw no more interceptions for the rest of the season. But all in all, the team seemed loose. It has moved on from Oregon. It’s time for ASU. And if the Trojans are successful Saturday, a much-improved, well-coached and motivated UCLA team will be waiting.
The question to me is simple: Will this 2012 USC team play a strong game in all three phases for the first time this year? If it does, maybe it will make the most of this fourth chance. If not, history may repeat itself.