The Hogue Report

The Defining Stretch of the Season is Now Here for the Trojans

For starters, I want to thank John Jackson for filling in for me on Fox Sports' Trojans Live post-game show on Saturday. Other plans (namely, a vacation with my family) kept me from Palo Alto. I'll be back for the remaining games… who would miss these next four?

I don't know that Saturday's game deserves a lot of time in anyone's column. It was good to see the Trojans respond well to the loss in Corvallis and come out aggressive on offense and defense. Playing a junior varsity team is always good for your confidence and your rhythm, and Stanford's been serving up a JV team all year to everyone on their schedule.

And here we are… staring at the stretch of games on the schedule that we've been staring at and waiting for since the schedule came out. And while most Trojans' fans thought they'd be undefeated at this point, let's take a look at the reality of where the Trojans stand:

1. USC has one loss, and most national pundits are predicting USC will lose one more, with most pointing to Cal. They were waiting for USC to lose given its unconvincing wins against some of the early PAC-10 opponents, and when it did finally lose, most said, "See – they lost too much from last year, and there's no way they'll make it through the next stretch without a second loss."

The media is a funny thing. No one has been complaining about the close wins of Ohio State and Michigan, even when against lousy opponents. Louisville is undefeated, and that's what it's all about, but their schedule is embarrassing and that WVU-Louisville game didn't impress anyone about either team. I think the odds makers in Vegas would list Louisville as the underdog if they were scheduled to play any other team in the top-10 right now.

When you look at the one-loss teams, Texas tops the list right now, which is because of who they lost to, and the fact that they lost early. That said, the game against OSU wasn't close, and if not for a late fumble by Nebraska, they likely lose to the same Cornhusker team that was never really in the game with the Trojans (but nobody has complained about Texas). As for Florida – a lot of the media are riding their bandwagon because they are so enamored with the SEC, and due to this, no one is skeptical when they have close games against Vanderbilt and a bad Georgia team, and their non-conference schedule includes Southern Mississippi, Central Florida, and Western Carolina. As for Auburn – they were crushed by Arkansas who the Trojans destroyed. The other two worth mentioning (Notre Dame and Cal), the Trojans will play – so that will be settled on the field.

The reason I list all of this out is simple: I believe that if the Trojans win out (and win by playing well on Nationally televised games that will be seen by a lot of voters), they will be ranked as high as #2 but no lower than #4.

2. There's more to play for than just the end of this season. As I said in my previous column, USC's dominant position at the top of the college football world will be greatly effected by whether or it can make it through this next stretch of the season undefeated. If they don't, Cal, Notre Dame or others will be able to tell recruits that they have finally caught USC. If USC does win out, it may be again playing for the national championship this season (which would be 4 years in a row), and even if not, will likely begin next season as the pre-season #1 team in the nation.

3. It won't be easy. I'd actually be surprised if USC isn't favored in all of the remaining games, including Cal, but there is no doubt that USC will have to put its best games together to emerge from this stretch with four wins. Stanford aside, the Trojans haven't put together a complete game with great execution in all four quarters this year. But I think these Trojans will be ready for this stretch, as I would bet that – despite Pete Carroll's insistence that his teams take one game at a time – the team has been looking to this stretch as well. It would be impossible to NOT be up for these games.

So the stretch of games is finally here, and it couldn't mean more for a team and a program. What more could you ask for?

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