Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

When it's no longer 'one game at a time'

You know what they say about taking them "one game at a time" but is USC somewhere past that old adage and in a place where every game, every week for everybody matters now.

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- But it's a dry heat.

Sure, it may be 95 here when you land Friday afternoon but no worries, by Saturday it should cool off a couple of degrees. So welcome to Arizona, guys, for a day game.

Although not much welcome in Tucson. It's Parents Weekend there so this is about as close as you can get. "Watch yourself heading down I-10," the Hertz person says when she learns your destination, "there are cops everywhere." Two reasons. It's a 100-mile-long speed trap and "the major highway for drugs and illegals," the politically incorrect attendant says. "So be careful -- and have a great weekend."

A "great weekend" for USC will be getting a road win for the first time since last November. That's the place to start. You have to win here against the struggling Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12). It's sudden death pretty much in every Pac-12 game factoring the way USC fans seem to have thrown in the towel for the Washington game in Seattle and are conceding, at best, a USC Pac-12 record of 6-3.

Just like last year when USC won the South on a tiebreaker with Utah, after having thrashed the Utes at the Coliseum. No such luck this time around. The Utah game went 17 seconds and three USC turnovers too long for that to happen. So now does Utah have to lose four times for USC to emerge from the South?

Not really. Here's the deal. USC is already ahead of two teams in the South that it still has to play -- UCLA (1-2) and Arizona (0-3). So you have to figure USC has the ability to finish ahead of them since it still plays them. It's all in USC's hands.

Then there are the two teams USC has beaten -- Colorado and Arizona State, each 2-1 in the league and tied for first in the South with Utah. FInish in a two- or three-way tie with them and USC is in. So you root for them to lose -- as well as win, depending on who and when it is.

Colorado hosts ASU this weekend, is at Stanford, hosts UCLA, plays at Arizona, then is home to Washington State and Utah. Arizona State is at Colorado, hosts Washington State, then is at Oregon, hosts Utah, then goes to Washington and Arizona. Hard to see either of those getting through with just one loss the rest of the way. If they do, they deserve it. Looks like Colorado has the better shot.

That leaves the team with the edge on USC -- Utah. The Utes are at Oregon State in that giant storm coming through the Oregon coast this week. Fifty-mile-an-hour winds and rain anyone? And Utah out of running backs? Then they head to UCLA, a team USC has to root for, then host Washington's Huskies, head to Arizona State, host Oregon and finish up at Colorado. Not sure a team that's already lost to Cal will have an easy time finishing this off.

Could the Utes lose three more? Absolutely. But maybe they won't have to, if Colorado picks it up and makes it a three-way tie. Which of course means USC has to finish up by winning six of its last seven in the league. But of course, that starts Saturday.

And while he has his hands full winning USC's games, Clay Helton admits that he keeps an eye on what those other teams are doing. "Definitely," Clay said this week. "It's only human nature . . . I wish I could say it wasn't."

So had he heard about those 50-mph winds and rainstorm in Corvallis? "No, but it sounds good," Clay said.

Which is another reason to like the way Clay does this. Most coaches wouldn't admit it. But Clay is kind of the everyman-as-football-coach. He looks at this the way we look at it. It matters what those other teams do. Because it makes the rest of the season matter for USC. And it changes the approach to each of these games. They're not just standalones . . . exhibitions . . . merely for pride.

They really do matter. And as long as they do, USC remains relevant.

But what is also relevant is the way the Pac-12 resolves three-way (or more) tiebreakers. The basic point of these tiebreakers is to get the number of tied teams down to two and then the head-to-head rule applies. So the first principle for USC here is to not get into a two-way tie with Utah.

So what are those three-way tiebreakers exactly? Here they are from the Pac-12 Web site: 1) Head-to-head results (best record in games between tied teams). Good news here is that USC has beaten two of the three teams tied for first.

The next tiebreaker is: 2) Record in intra-divisional games. USC has lost one in the division and if USC fans are correct and it loses to Washington and wins out otherwise, then two of its three losses would be out of the South. Only Utah is unbeaten in the South now.

The next three are pretty much crap shoots: 3) record against the next highest team in the division (in all conference games), 4) record in common conference games and last of all, 5) the highest ranking in College Football Playoff poll entering the final weekend of the regular season. No way to handicap any of those.

So pay attention -- if USC keeps winning. You may not want to go to Corvallis this time of year. But you might want to keep one eye on the Weather Channel and the other on -- dare we say it -- the Pac-12 Network.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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