We never did get a matchup between USC and Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl. If the Trojans had beaten Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, we probably would have had that matchup since TCU lost in the Big 12 Championship Game to Kansas State. TCU would have played Georgia in the other playoff semifinal.
Because the USC-Michigan matchup never did happen, I didn’t want to talk about the pairing heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC had to take care of business first, and it didn’t. Yet, privately and inwardly, I did think USC had a great chance to beat Michigan if the two teams did meet in the Fiesta Bowl.
We all saw why this past Saturday, when the Wolverines lost to TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
Saying “USC coulda taken Michigan!” (or any other team) in a playoff semifinal might seem like empty boasting, especially since USC fell so far short of even getting to the playoff. Getting blasted by 23 points by Utah and still saying the Trojans could have put up a fight might sound like a pathetic, stubborn attempt to die on a hill.
What it actually was: an attempt to underscore a simple point.
Michigan and all other teams in college football this season aren’t elite teams.
That’s not the statement of a loser trying to diminish the teams which finished higher than USC and had better seasons than USC. It’s merely analysis of college football in 2022: There really were zero elite teams. It’s not that USC was so good, but that other teams didn’t separate themselves from USC by a large margin.
Will USC thrive in the Big Ten? Saturday brought home the point that the Trojans should be fine when they change conferences in 2024. Let’s discuss this.
SIMILAR LINE OF THOUGHT
CALIBER OF OPPONENT MATTERS
BIG TEN WEST
WHY GARRETT RILEY WON A PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL BEFORE LINCOLN RILEY, PART ONE
Alabama and Clemson met in the national title game in three of four seasons from 2015 through 2018, and they met in the 2017 semifinals. Those two programs put up a brick wall, denying other teams entry into the national title game — with the sole exception of Georgia in 2017 — for four straight seasons. Those teams plus Kirby Smart’s Georgia teams and the 2019 LSU Joe Burrow team were dominant teams, far better than 2022 Michigan, which has been a bad bowl team under Jim Harbaugh.
ALABAMA AND CLEMSON REGULARLY DOMINATED PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS
OHIO STATE HAS JUST ONE PLAYOFF WIN SINCE JANUARY OF 2015
Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and 2019 LSU had great track records and/or great teams in the seasons when Lincoln Riley met them in the playoff semifinals. Michigan and Ohio State have bad playoff track records since Ohio State won the 2014 national championship.
Playing Michigan — not prime-period Alabama or Clemson — certainly matters. USC versus prime Alabama and USC versus playoff Michigan are two very, very different propositions.
The Trojans will be just fine in the Big Ten (provided their defense evolves the way it should).