Given the opponent and environment, USC’s performance in the third and fourth quarters at Notre Dame qualify as its best half of the 36 played since Sam Darnold took his last snap.
On the road against a top-10 opponent and trailing by 17 points, the Trojans responded in unfamiliar fashion:
With grit and resolve; with leadership, aggressiveness and playmaking on both sides of the ball; and with no major gaffes on the sideline. (But a big whiff by the officials.)
Final judgment, however, depends entirely on distance.
The more narrow your scope, the better the performance appears.
Step back a decade — or half a century — and resignation sets in.
Since Helton was named permanent coach late in the 2015 season, the Trojans have played 21 games against Power Five competition without Darnold.
In those games, USC is 8-13, with seven losses by 10+ points.
At this point, it seems unlikely the school will make an in-season move on Helton. USC has a new president and an interim athletic director, with a permanent selection perhaps weeks away. And the quality of play under Helton is clearly a level better than we saw last year.
By the end of the regular season, the sample size against Power Five opponents will have reached 27 games. The only way for Helton to claim a winning record against that subset of competition, we should note, is for the Trojans to win out.
On to the power ratings…
1. Oregon (5-1, 3-0)
Last week: 1
Result: Beat Colorado 45-3
Next up: at Washington
If the Ducks sweep the Washington schools the next two Saturdays, the North race will be over before Halloween.
2. Arizona State (5-1, 2-1)
Last week: 2
Result: Beat Washington State 38-34
Next up: at Utah
Of the 14 games against Power Five opponents in the Herm Edwards era, 12 have been decided by a touchdown or less — a simply phenomenhermal stat. (ASU is 7-5.)
3. Utah (5-1, 2-1)
Last week: 3
Result: Won at Oregon State 52-7
Next up: vs. Arizona State
Utes scored 90 points the past two games against bottom-tier defenses from Pullman and Corvallis. The next three weeks, they will face several of the best (ASU, Cal and Washington).
4. Washington (5-2, 2-2)
Last week: 4
Result: Won at Arizona 51-27
Next up: vs. Oregon
Touchdown conversion rate in the red zone now 53.13%. That’s good for 102nd nationally and behind such juggernauts as Western Kentucky, South Alabama and Akron … but ahead of Colorado, ASU and Stanford.
5. USC (3-3, 2-1)
Last week: 5
Result: Lost at Notre Dame 30-27
Next up: vs. Arizona
Considered moving the Trojans ahead of Washington after the performance in South Bend, but the head-to-head result and scores against BYU give the Huskies the edge.
6. Stanford (3-3, 2-2)
Last week: 8
Next up: vs. UCLA (Thursday)
Yep, the Cardinal moved up two spots. Better to be idle than blown out.
7. Cal (4-2, 1-2)
Last week: 9
Next up: vs. Oregon State
Combination of the extra week and Oregon State’s turnstile defense should give Devon Modster the reps and confidence necessary to perform at a functional level (loosely defined).
8. Arizona (4-2, 1-2)
Last week: 6
Result: Lost to Washington 51-27
Next up: at USC
Not exactly an ideal start to a difficult three-game stretch, which moves to the Coliseum and then heads to Stanford Stadium. All signs point to a bowl berth at stake in the Territorial Cup.
9. Colorado (3-3, 1-2)
Last week: 7
Result: Lost at Oregon 45-3
Next up: at Washington State
Friday night road games are difficult under any circumstances, but particularly so when your defense doesn’t make the trip. Buffs are 124th nationally in yards-per-play allowed (6.87).
10. Washington State (3-3, 0-3)
Last week: 10
Result: Lost at Arizona State 38-34
Next up: vs. Colorado
Earliest point with three losses since the 2014 season, when the Cougars finished with nine total Ls.
11. Oregon State (2-4, 1-2)
Last week: 11
Result: Lost to Utah 52-7
Next up: at Cal
They can’t all be UCLA.
12. UCLA (1-5, 1-2)
Last week: 12
Next up: at Stanford (Thursday)
Previous two trips to Stanford, the Bruins allowed 114 total points and 517 rushing yards to Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love.