The great thing about USC defeating Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game is that the Trojans can claim winning the conference title for the first time since 2008. That’s a big deal. The unfortunate thing about the victory is that despite posting an impressive 11-2 record on the season, voters of the College Football Playoff (CFP) system, up until this point, have not been impressed enough by the Trojans to invite them to be part of the Top 4 college football tier that make up the postseason.
That could change.
Last year, USC rolled its way into the Rose Bowl Game where they defeated Penn State in a college football classic. This year’s bowl wheelhouse for the Trojans probably won’t include an invite to the Rose Bowl Game this year as the College Football Playoff will be hosting one of its semifinal games in Pasadena. It would have been another remarkable climax for the Trojans. A lot would have to happen for USC to land that gig.
“We sit here with 11 wins,” USC head coach Clay Helton said after the game. “We sit here as a conference champion. We sit here with an unbelievable strength of schedule, and had the opportunity to show on national TV, I think we were the only game on, who we are. Obviously, the reality is we’ll need some help. But if you look up and there’s four teams that are two-loss champions, conference champions, I think we deserve to be in the discussion, especially the way these guys finished the season. They’re hot right now and they’re playing good football.”
As it is, the 20017 college football season proved to be another marker in the Clay Helton era for USC. Last season, an invite to the Rose Bowl Game pointed the program in an upward tick. Winning the conference championship is yet another step forward to what the Trojans ultimately would like to claim: a national championship. Beating a Stanford team twice in the same season is a good start towards that goal.
Like they’ve done all season, the Trojans rode the right arm of quarterback Sam Darnold and used the nimble feet of Ronald Jones to hand Stanford a 31-28 defeat at Levi Stadium. Darnold passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, while Jones ran for a 141 yards and a score to led USC to its eleventh win on the season.
“I thought it was a very, very hard-fought game, a great game by both schools,” said Helton. “Credit to Coach Shaw and Stanford. They played their hearts out, absolute hearts out. So proud. This was a team effort, and these guys found a way. We said that failure was not an option when we began today, and to see that defensive stand on the goal line, to see a 99-yard drive to take the lead, these kids win games, players win games. So I’ll let you all talk to them and ask them questions. If you’ve got any for me, feel free to ask, but these guys got it done.”
Except for the snag they hit in South Bend and the hiccup they encountered at Washington State, the Trojans have found a way all season to get it done. Overall, USC is not as strong of a unit as they were last season, but this is a pretty good and resilient group of student-athletes. The stellar play of both Darnold and Jones continue to shine. Opposing defenses have had little success in silencing the USC duo.
Jones, who surpassed O.J. Simpson for the No.5 spot on the Trojans’ all-time rushing list with his effort against the Cardinal, has rushed for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns for the 2017 season. Against Stanford, it was the ninth time this season that Jones had gone over the century mark, an uncanny achievement considering the way Darnold has been slinging the ball around all year.
In the first matchup between the two teams, Darnold passed for 316 yards in a 42-24 convincing win by the Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium back in September. The conference title game was a lot closer, but the Cardinal still had no answer on how to stop Darnold, who has thrown for 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns on the season. Big wins means big results. For Darnold and the Trojans, the win against Stanford simply means they are the best team in the Pac-12.
“Right now this means the most in the world right now,” Darnold said. “It’s special to see how far we’ve come as a team. This is definitely winning a Pac-12 championship is our goal at the beginning of the year, and we achieved that goal. So I’m really excited for what’s to come. However we get ranked is not up to us, but we’re just going to continue to compete, and that’s all we can do.”