The sky is falling in Eugene and the Men of Troy will win the Pac-12 Conference in 2015. Or at least 21 Pac-12 media voters seem to think so. Last week, during Pac-12 Media Days, the USC Trojans were picked to win the conference by a select group of media voters, beating out the reigning champion Oregon Ducks, who placed second in the poll after receiving 17 votes.
How is this possible? The Ducks have won four conference titles since the Trojans won their last one in 2008 under Pete Carroll. USC has failed to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game since the creation of the new 12-team conference for the 2010-11 season.
Furthermore, no team from the Pac-12 South Division has won the conference since USC seven years ago, as the Stanford Cardinal (ugh) won the two non-Oregon conference titles consecutively in 2012 and 2013.
It is important to keep in mind that USC has been struggling through NCAA sanctions that drastically reduced its scholarships as a result of a scandal that ultimately saw former running back Reggie Bush stripped of his Heisman trophy.
However, the fact remains that the Trojans, despite producing good recruiting classes each of the last few years, lost two first round draft picks (DL Leonard Williams and WR Nelson Agholor) and last year’s top rusher (RB Javorius Allen) from a team that finished 9-4 in 2014-15. So what makes this year’s incarnation a conference title favorite?
Well, say what you want about USC, but it consistently recruits with the best of them. Now those former prep all-Americans have experience to go along with the talent that made them top prospects coming out of high school.
QB Cody Kessler is the top returning passer in the conference, as he led all returning passers in passing efficiency, touchdowns and completion percentage in 2014. WR JuJu Smith was a game-changer in 2014 as a freshman and should cement himself in the national consciousness in 2015.
Before Oregon fans worry too much, it is worth mentioning that while USC may very well be a legit contender out of the south division, there are still those who stand behind the defending champs. In fact, there are some who think that the media may have even done Oregon a favor by voting for the Trojans as the conference favorite.
Austin Meek of the Eugene Register Guard published an article on July 31 entitled: “USC the Pac-12’s preseason pick? Ducks should say thanks[,]” wherein he describes exactly why Oregon fans should rest easy despite the preseason polls.
“It puts a target on someone else’s back, and means Helfrich won’t have to dig deep to find a motivational message for the first day of fall camp,” says Meek. And while this is true to an extent, fans would be foolish to think that teams will look at Oregon as anything but the class of the conference.
However, Meek is correct in saying that Mark Helfrich and the Ducks probably feel “disrespected” and will come out of the gates with a palpable edge and a “nobody-believes-in-us” mentality. This ought to serve the Ducks well, as they head to East Lansing, Michigan, in Week 2 to face perennial B1G powerhouse Michigan State.
The Ducks do have some questions, principally at quarterback, but the rest of the Pac-12 better look out if Oregon starts off quickly and handles the Spartans on the road. If the Ducks get rolling, no one will be surprised if they steamroll their way to another berth in the College Football Playoff, no matter how tough USC and the rest of the Pac-12 South may be.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline