USC Heads Into Fantastic Stretch

For USC, the path to a CFP berth is clear, as  focus shifts quickly from UCLA to Notre Dame

Caleb Williams gets a hug from coach Lincoln Riley after the Trojans defeated UCLA to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game and stay in contention for a College Football Playoff spot. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  There were tears of joy and roars of elation, years worth of pent-up emotions all packed into one raucous, postgame celebration.

The realization seemed to sweep over USC’s sideline all at once in the final seconds of its 48-45 victory over UCLA on Saturday: Not only would the rivalry win send the Trojans to the Pac-12 title game, but also the College Football Playoff, a goal that seemed entirely preposterous at this point last year, was now in play.

It was a lot to take in for a team that finished 4-8 last season.

“Competing for the College Football Playoff, it’s a unique experience for some of us old-heads here,” senior guard Justin Dedich said jokingly.

Now, to keep the party going, it’ll be up to those old heads to make sure USC shakes off the impending emotional hangover in time.

There’s certainly no room for error over the next two weeks, not with No. 13 Notre Dame awaiting Saturday and the Pac-12 title game six days after that. Win those two games and the Trojans should qualify for the CFP.

New coach Lincoln Riley has been in this position plenty of times before, having led Oklahoma to the playoff in each of his first three seasons as coach. But for USC’s players, it’s a new experience, one they’re learning to deal with on the fly.

That much was clear at the start of practice Tuesday, when, “energy was lacking,” center Brett Neilon said.

“We picked it up,” Neilon said. “I think that’s going to be a key point for us. Block out all the outside distractions and focus on us.”

Kicker confidence

After missing two more kicks against UCLA, Denis Lynch is tied for the most missed field-goal attempts of any qualifying kicker in college football through 11 games this season. Still, Lincoln Riley said Tuesday that his confidence level in USC’s freshman kicker remains “very high.”

Lynch reaffirmed that belief just before the half Saturday, when he split the uprights on a 49-yarder, into the wind.

“If there’s a continuing problem, of course you’re going to address it or make adjustments. But we’ve got a lot of confidence in Denis,” Riley said. “I think Denis showed his confidence by coming back and nailing that one.”

Williams’ return

A week after Jordan Addison got off to a slow start in his return from injury, fellow wideout Mario Williams was uncharacteristically quiet against UCLA.

He figured in for just 24 snaps and was targeted twice, one of which was dropped. Riley said he thought Williams played well, but “you could also see some rust.”

“He missed a month of ball, like Jordan had against Colorado,” Riley said. “That’s the value of those guys getting in there and getting the chance to play and get their feet back under them.”

yahoo.com

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volunteerTrojan
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volunteerTrojan(@volunteertrojan)
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November 23, 2022 6:56 am

If this committee takes any 1 loss conference non-champ over a power 5 1 loss conference champ, they might as well go back to computers or drawingnames out of a hat. Especially when the 1 loss was by a point on the road in the last minute after getting jobbed all game by the refs.

Chris
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Chris(@chris)
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November 22, 2022 8:27 pm

There always seems to be one beat writer who throws cold water on USC football. Feels like Matt Zemek will fill that role. He always looks for the bad.

Steveg
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Steveg(@steveg)
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November 23, 2022 7:27 am
Reply to  Chris

I agree Chris, Zemek loves the debbie downer stuff, and usually his writing is full of holes.

HOF19
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November 22, 2022 5:59 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Notice the Conference represented at the #5 spot and #7 spot (2 teams by-the-way that have 9-2 Records ).

Jamaica
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Jamaica(@jamaica)
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November 22, 2022 8:26 pm
Reply to  HOF19

This year anyway, if you don’t make your conference championship game, you are likely out of the playoff race. I can’t see Bama moving up over a conference champion beating a mediocre Auburn. I also can’t see LSU beating Georgia. Oh that game may be close, but with 3-loses, the Tigers are gone. Again, the question remains, whoever loses the Michigan-Ohio State game, will they drop below #4? TCU will win the Big 12 so, USC has to win out and hope they can move up to #4.

SC Gator
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SC Gator(@sc-gator)
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November 23, 2022 6:10 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

So has UCLA. Fat lot of good it did them. 8 home games, a laughable OOC schedule, and a 10-3 season with a second-tier bowl win (if they show up this time) is the best-available outcome.

Will they ever win 11?

SC Gator
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November 23, 2022 6:15 am
Reply to  Jamaica

That should be a rule. If not from the start of the BCS era, they should have adopted it after the 2000 season, when Nebraska gave up 60 to Colorado to miss the CCG and was rewarded with a spot in the NC game, where they got roasted again.

ATL D.D.S.
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November 23, 2022 6:19 am
Reply to  HOF19

They don’t call the College Football Playoff the SEC Invitational Football Tournament for nothin’…ya feel me?