ESPN drunk behind the wheel of the USC bandwagon

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 25, 2008



 (Ed. note: We first ran this piece almost exactly one year ago today, on Sept. 26, 2008. It actually proved to be one of the most popular pieces in CHFF history, because it lit up the chat boards around the SEC in excitement. We re-run it today, Sept. 20, 2009, as the mighty Trojans are fresh off another humiliating loss to a second-rate power, in this case a 16-10 defeat at Washington on Saturday.)
 
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Patrolocus of pigskin
 
If there's a BrettFavre of the college ranks, it's the USC Trojans.
 
Lauded year after year as the best team in college football, they always seem to find a way to cave under pressure and lose a game they shouldn't.
 
No. 1-ranked USC's 27-21 loss at unranked Oregon State Thursday night was just the latest in a long string of embarrassing losses for a program routinely proclaimed by the "pundits" as college football's greatest dynasty. (Feel free to laugh at the "pundits" here.)
 
We'd call it a shocking loss ... if it weren't so typical of the USC "dynasty."
 
The Thursday night defeat was USC's second straight loss in Corvallis and its second loss in as many years to an unranked opponent. The Trojans lost at home last year to Stanford, one of the worst teams in 1-A football.
 
It's the first time in nearly a quarter century (since 1985) that a top-ranked team lost to an unranked team, according to ESPN in its post-game report.
 
The worst part? USC (2-1) had 12 days to prepare for Oregon State (2-2) after its big win over Ohio State.
 
Doesn't sound very much like the best team ever, does it? In fact, these results have the distinct ring of a program that doesn't live up to the hype.

Of course, as is the case with BrettFavre, ESPN's hysteria is the main reason USC is probably the most overrated program in history.
 
ESPN announcer Craig James admitted as much last night, as orange-clad OSU students stormed the field to celebrate victory over this "greatest dynasty ever."
 
James said that he and other ESPN personalities felt compelled "to show why USC was the best team ever" in their pre-game reporting. ("Best team ever" are his words, not ours, folks.)
 
Clearly, they were wrong, and they have been wrong for several years about this team, at least since their first "best team ever" coronation effort before USC's loss to Texas in the 2005 national title game.
 
It's too bad the Chris Berman Effect is infecting ESPN's college coverage, like swollen, black, rat-borne buboes infecting the Dark Ages of gridiron analysis.
 
After all, ESPN consistently provides the best college football analysis out there (even as its pro coverage is soap-operatic at best). ESPN college GameDay, as we've long noted, is the best pregame show of any kind in sports today. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit have established themselves as key voices in the college football world in the post-Keith Jackson Era. Lee Corso's act is a riot. And studio personalities Mark May, Doug Flutie (ABC), Lou Holtz, and James all bring solid, sober analysis to the network.
 
Yet the "everything-today-is-the-best-ever" hyperbole that plagues its pro football coverage rears its head each time the network talks about USC.
 
College football has been with us for 139 seasons, folks. It started four years after the Civil War and it's the Grand Old Game of American sports. The notion that we're watching the "best team ever" when it rarely goes undefeated in its own conference is ignorant of college football history at best and intentionally misleading at worst.
 
We're betting it's the latter: ESPN is intentionally misleading its customers.
 
You read it here first, folks: the USC hype has been little more than an effort to win over viewers in the nation's No. 2 media market – a market, just so coincidentally, that has no NFL team. Sucking up to the Trojans when they clearly don't deserve it appears as little more than an effort to woo the L.A. market. Truth be damned.
 
Hey, we're capitalists. We're all for making money. But when you're being played like a tuba, it's time for the Cold, Hard Football Facts to step up, set the record straight and feed you the statistical truth about college football history and USC's place in it.
 
Let's put it this way: Pete Carroll is no Frank Leahy or Bear Bryant.
 
Here's why USC has been driving drunk while seated at the wheel of the USC bandwagon the last few years and why its time for the pigskin patrol officer called the Cold, Hard Football Facts to administer a series of sobriety tests.
 
Screw "ever" – USC isn't even the program of the decade
Hard to be the best ever when you might not even be the best of this decade.
 
People outside the SEC might not realize this, but LSU – not USC – is the only team to win two national titles this decade. The Tigers also won these two titles under two different coaches, and they won these two titles after emerging from a conference in which USC would be J-A-T (just another team).
 
USC might have been able to claim two national titles this decade in the pre-BCS system. After all, they won one BCS title in 2004, after their only undefeated season of the era, and claimed the No. 1 spot in the AP poll in 2003, the year LSU won its first BCS title.
 
But on the flip side, even USC's "official" BCS-approved national title of 2004 is in dispute. Auburn went 13-0 in the SEC that year – which should have qualified them for a spot in the NFC South, let alone the national title game.
 
USC instead faced Oklahoma in the BCS national title game, who they destroyed, while the best team from the best conference with the best record against the best competition watched the game from home.
 
If the "greatest team ever" is going to lose twice in a row at Corvallis, we can only surmise that USC would be whitewashed two or three times a year if the schedule each season included two or three trips to some combination of Athens, Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Knoxville, the Plains and/or the Swamp.
 
USC does have a better record than LSU since 2003. The Trojans have gone 61-7 (.897) over that period. The Tigers are 58-10 (.853). But LSU has suffered nine of those 10 losses against Top 20 teams – nine of them in the SEC alone. Their lone non-conference loss was to Top-20 Iowa in 2004.
 
LSU has never struggled to beat teams like Oregon State and Stanford. It's a safe bet, meanwhile, that USC would be bloodied several times a year in the SEC.
 
(Correction: alert reader Colts18 pointed out that LSU did in fact struggle to beat Oregon State in 2004. The Tigers won the game in Baton Rouge 22-21 in overtime, thanks largely to an incredible three missed extra points by the Beavers.)
 
Five programs that would crush the Trojans like Achilles crushing Hektor
If LSU doesn't it do it for you, here are five teams that were clearly more dominant in their day than USC has been this decade, including two that even the historical newbies at ESPN should remember.
 
There are others (Notre Dame of the 1920s perhaps most notably). But these are five programs that clearly dominated college ball more than USC, yet somehow have been forgotten by ESPN in its race to coronate the Trojans G-O-A-T.  
 
Nebraska 1993-97 – The Cornhuskers went 60-3 (.952) over these five seasons, played in four national championship games, won three of them, and fielded three undefeated teams.
 
Miami 1985-91 – The Hurricanes went 78-6 (.929) over these seven seasons, won three national championships and fielded two undefeated teams.
 
Alabama 1961-66 – The Tide went 60-5-1 (.917) over these six seasons, fielded two undefeated teams and won two national titles.
 
Oklahoma 1952-58 – The Sooners went 68-4-2 (.932) over these seven seasons, won two national titles and fielded three undefeated teams. This period included a record 47-game win streak from 1953 through 1957.
 
Notre Dame 1941-43 and 1946-49 – The Irish in these years under Frank Leahy went 60-3-5 (.919), fielded five undefeated teams and won four national titles. Leahy missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons to service in the war (which is why we split the years used here). He returned to lead Notre Dame to four straight unbeaten seasons from 1946-49. How good was Leahy? The Knute Rockne protege led Boston College to an 11-0 season in 1940 before bolting for South Bend. When Pete Carroll goes undefeated six times with two different programs we'll put him in Leahy's class.
 
A little perspective
To put USC's record into perspective compared to these better programs, the Trojans have gone 72-9 (.889) over the six-plus seasons since 2002, the team's breakout year under Pete Carroll.
 
They've fielded one undefeated team (13-0 in 2004) and won one BCS national title.
 
In each case they pale in comparison to the five programs we outlined above.
 
The truth is that the alleged greatness of USC is perpetuated by the fact that it's the biggest football team in one of the nation's biggest sports markets. The fact that it's the glitzy market of Los Angeles, a metropolis without a pro team but with plenty of Hollywood star power, merely adds to the hype. If the Trojans  played in Tuscaloosa or Norman, nobody would be trying to tell us that they're the best ever – least of all the worldwide leader in hype.
 
And, as you saw last night and read here today, the Trojans simply do not stack up against the G-O-A-T in any meaningful way.
 
Just ask the kids who stormed the field in Corvallis Thursday night.

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