After a last-second loss to Utah, the Trojans (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12) find themselves in fourth place in the Pac-12 South.
But how close is Steve Sarkisian's crew to being undefeated in conference play with a two-game lead on the rest of the division? According to our calculations using win probability provided by ESPN Stats and Information, five out of six times USC should indeed be 6-0 in the Pac-12 right now.
That is, grab a regular six-sided die from your favorite board game and roll it. If it comes up anything but a six, USC wins both of those games and is undefeated with a stranglehold on the division.
And the odds that USC should have won either the ASU or Utah game, giving the Trojans a 5-1 conference record, is a staggering 99.4%. So only one time out of 166 should the Trojans be 4-2 after the leads they held late in those conference losses.
Where do these crazy numbers come from? We use the ESPN data for the Trojans expected win percentage against the Sun Devils and Utes and calculate it from there.
First let's take a look at USC's 38-34 loss to Arizona State on that famous Hail Mary pass as time expired. According to the mathematic model put together by the ESPN Stats crew, the Trojans had a 91.3% win probability with seven seconds left in the game, right before that Hail Mary touchdown. And that win probability for USC was up to an astronomical 95.1% two plays earlier, when the Sun Devils faced second and 10 at their own 28-yard line with 17 seconds left in the game and no timeouts left.
So that means that less than one time out of 20 the Trojans should have lost to the Sun Devils, based on the game situations and short time remaining.
Then last week on the road against Utah, the Trojans lost the lead with just eight seconds left in the game on a one-yard touchdown pass. Utah sacked Cody Kessler on the last play of the game, giving the Utes a 24-21 come from behind victory.
With just two minutes and 13 seconds left in the game, USC had the ball on the Utah 27-yard line facing a fourth down and 2. According to ESPN's numbers, the Trojans had a remarkable 87.3% win probability at that point in the contest. But the fourth down pitch play to Nelson Agholor failed and Utah got the ball back with a chance to take the lead and win the game.
The Utes, with just one timeout left and down by four points, drove the ball down to the USC 26-yard line with 49 seconds remaining. At that point the Trojans still had a 71.8% chance to win the ballgame, needing only to prevent Utah from finding the end zone. But four plays later Travis Wilson found Kaelin Clay and the Trojans had blown another fourth-quarter lead.
So looking at 17 seconds left in the ASU game and 2:13 left in the Utah game, the chance that USC should have won both games is calculated simply by multiplying the probability of beating the Sun Devils with the probability of beating the Utes.
P(WinBoth) = P(BeatASU) * P (BeatUTAH)
Filling in the numbers:
P(WinBoth) = 95.1% * 87.3% = 83% or five out six times the Trojans should have won both games.
To calculate the percentage that USC should win at least one of those two games, we add the probability of winning each game and then subtract the probability of winning both.
P(WinOne) = P(BeatASU) + P(BeatUtah) - P(WinBoth)
P(WinOne) = 95.1% + 87.3% - 83% = 99.4%
Which makes calculating the probability of the Trojans losing both games easy, simply subtracting the probability of winning at least one game from 100.
P(LoseBoth) = 100% - 99.4% = 0.6%
So what ended up happening, USC losing to Arizona State AND Utah, should only occur 0.6% of the time, or one time out of 166.
Just for fun, we wanted to take a look at the win probabilities for the other near fourth-quarter collapse, the Trojans 28-26 win over Arizona.
With 3:27 left in the game the Wildcats were trailing USC 28-20 facing a 1st and 10 at their own 20-yard line. At that point, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the Trojans had a 85.1% win probability. That win probability for SC went down to 70% after Arizona scored a touchdown with 1:07 on the clock. But after the Wildcats failed to punch in the two-point conversion, USC's win probability shot back up to 86.6%.
On the next play Arizona recovered the onside kick at the USC 47 yard line, needing only a field goal to win. At that point the Trojans win probability dropped dramatically to 57.3%. Two plays later Arizona had a 1st down at the USC 22 yard line, and the Trojans win probability hit a low of 31.9%.
Of course Arizona missed the 36-yard field goal wide right and USC held on for the win.
Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of USCFootball.com since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .