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September 28, 2009

Path to BCS title still there

Early in camp, USC freshman linebacker Marquis Simmons led his teammates in a rendition of "Lean On Me." The performance spawned a visit by Bill Withers, and ESPN featured the song on College Gameday.

The message was that the Trojans could count on one another. While that remains true, USC is now in the position to lean on its opposition to help the Trojans' championship hopes.

In the past, USC has been snake bitten by the conference's inability to pick up big wins and look strong. But through four weeks in this young season, that perception is starting to change.

Three Pac-10 teams are currently ranked in the USA Today Coaches' Poll (the one that matters in the BCS formula), and two more are in position to move up with wins. In fact, a UCLA win at Stanford next weekend could put the undefeated Bruins in the top 25. Stanford, who is also receiving votes, could slide up if it takes care of UCLA at home.

Oregon is surging, and Cal is talented enough to beat anyone left on the Bears' schedule, USC included.

The Trojans' do need some help from Notre Dame. The Irish have a very manageable remaining schedule, with games against Boston College, Washington State, Navy and Connecticut. They also go to Pitt and Stanford, two games that would be very nice victories.

The point here is this: USC can expect to get some help for the teams remaining on its schedule. But, can USC expect to lean on the teams ahead of it currently in the polls.

As far as USC is concerned, the SEC won't be an issue. Only one team for the conference will be represented in college football's biggest game. LSU and Florida play, and Alabama travels to Ole Miss, always a tough game, and hosts LSU. Someone will emerge from these three teams and will likely play for the national championship, barring something crazy.

The teams USC has to worry about are Texas, Oklahoma and Boise State.

The Longhorns' offense has looked very sharp through four games. Colt McCoy has already passed for 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns.

But Texas' defense has not been tested yet. The Longhorns have played a soft schedule. 2-2 Texas Tech is the best team they've faced, and their schedule gets a lot tougher. Texas will play Oklahoma, travel to Missouri and Oklahoma State and host Kansas. Plus if Texas prevails in the Big 12, it has to play in a conference championship game against likely Kansas, Nebraska or Missouri.

Oklahoma's road is similar to USC's because the Sooners lost without quarterback Sam Bradford on the field. The schedule is tough, going to Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech. Oklahoma also finishes the year with Oklahoma State, always a tough game.

The trickiest team that could really mess things up is Boise State. The Broncos could very easily finish the year undefeated, and since they've cracked the top five in the polls, they could benefit if Florida, Texas, Alabama or LSU stumble.

Pollsters might give Boise's win over Oregon more credence if Oregon looks like it did last weekend when the Ducks trounced Cal. Also considering the way Utah handled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season.

Common sense would tell us that a team from a non-BCS conference would eventually play for the national championship. If the Broncos go undefeated, this could be the year.

The Trojans can make their case stronger by playing well with Matt Barkley and Taylor Mays back in the lineup. If USC wins at Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon this month, the team's profile will jump significantly.

After beating Washington State, Damian Williams said anything could happen.

He's right. Even a loss at Washington, a team that had just won its first game in over a year, didn't slam the door on USC.

Now the Trojans just need to lean on some high-profile teams around the country and hope they buckle.


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