USC’s hype once again fails to meet its reality as playoff hopes crumble

No, Clay Helton doesn’t need to be worried about getting left at the airport in Los Angeles, not now or any time this season. But he also shouldn’t be planning a trip to New York City in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

And nobody associated with USC should be putting down deposits for tickets to a major bowl game, certainly not the playoff ones.

As has become frustratingly common for the Trojans this decade, there’s a pretty big difference between preseason possibilities and regular-season results. Hype is nothing more than hope, and USC is a prime example of this much as it has several other times since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

Saturday’s 49-14 loss at Notre Dame effectively removes USC from any playoff discussion, even if it wins out and takes the Pac-12 title. Having that happen now would actually be a horrible thing for the Pac-12, because that league isn’t sending a two-loss team to the semifinals.

And forget about Sam Darnold being the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner (or even finalist) since Reggie Bush in 2005.

Ranked fourth in the Associated Press poll in August, this is the third time in the past six seasons USC has been a preseason top-10 team. It was No. 1 to start 2012 and finished unranked and went from eighth in 2015 to getting 10 total votes in the final AP Top 25 poll.

Where will the Trojans end up when this season is over? That remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say it won’t be anywhere near as high as expected.

Expecting them to fail to meet expectations has, unfortunately, become expected. So why was this year supposed to be different?

The warning signs have been there all along, but most people tried to ignore them. Struggling to beat Western Michigan in the season opener? The product of looking ahead to the much more important game a week later at Stanford. Needing a late rally to force overtime and edge Texas? The Longhorns were better than their record indicated.

And losing at Washington State? Pullman is a tough place to play, particularly on a short week.

So what’s the excuse for the Notre Dame loss, other than that the 13th-ranked Fighting Irish are really good? There isn’t one, as there shouldn’t have been ones for all the other times this season USC didn’t look anything like the team that ended 2016 on a nine-game win streak capped by the thrilling Rose Bowl win over Penn State.

Darnold was a huge part of that run last season, throwing 29 touchdown passes in those nine wins while averaging 295 passing yards in his 10 starts. He was also intercepted 8 times, but because USC kept winning, those mistakes were overlooked … and they ended up getting forgotten as the Darnold-for-Heisman hype train took on a record number of passengers during the offseason.

OddsShark.com had Darnold as the favorite, plus-400, to begin the season, but that’s dropped on a near weekly basis. It was at plus-1400 at the start of October and plus-4000 earlier this week, good for a distant seventh place.

After 2 more turnovers against Notre Dame, giving him 15 giveaways — more than 108 other FBS teams had entering Saturday — for the season, he’s probably going to be off the board. And rightfully so.

This doesn’t mean Darnold is inadequate, or that USC is a bad team. Neither is even close to being true. They’re just not nearly as good as expected, as tends to be the case with a lot of overly hyped players and teams.

The fact it keeps happening to USC, though, is probably due to too many people thinking that successes from the past (read: the Carroll era) can be replicated in the present. And it’s not that easy.

Just ask Miami, which is just now getting close to the elite status it once had throughout the 1980s and 1990s and needed to weather some NCAA scandals before getting back there. Or Notre Dame, which last won a national title in 1988 and most seasons since then has seen the Fighting Irish closer to the bottom than the top.

The Trojans are better off considering themselves a perennial top-20 program that can regularly climb into the top 5 or 10 than think it deserves to be in that upper echelon every year only to end up far from it when all is said and done. Last year’s team began No. 20, and even after getting thumped by Alabama and starting 1-3, it ended up third.

The Rose Bowl — a playoff venue this season — and the Heisman have been crossed off the list but there’s still a lot to play for. At 6-2, USC is still a good team that can still have a really good season, as a Pac-12 title is still very much in play with no unbeaten teams in conference play.

It just won’t be as good as many expected, wanted or hoped for. But that hasn’t happened much with the program since Carroll left.

The post USC’s hype once again fails to meet its reality as playoff hopes crumble appeared first on Diehards.

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