Let’s get one thing straight before I launch on this tirade—I am impressed with the shrewd roster management scheme concocted by
USC head coach Sith Lord Lane Kiffin. By redshirting half of the last pre-sanctions recruiting class, he essentially doubled the number of incoming playmakers for the 2012 season, which is the first season of bowl eligibility under the sanctions levied in the Bush NCAA scandal.
But one thing that Kiffin cannot escape is the fact that he still works under a ceiling of 75 scholarships. The combination of limiting initial signers and imposing a scholarship cap is designed to punish a team by putting it at a competitive disadvantage to correct for what was determined to be an improper competitive advantage. It is imposed for roughly the same time period that the advantage was shown to exist.
Kiffin juggled numbers to blunt some of that impact, but it can’t be completely escaped.
Already, injuries and academic issues have combined to pare Kiffin’s talent pool to about 70. He will not start the season at 75. While the team’s starters are players of unquestionable talent, and while Kiffin has shown a knack for getting the best out his top guys, he is still playing with what is essentially a one-deep roster.
Unless Darth Kiffin can muster some unknown power of the Dark Side, injuries are going to mount and the physical grind of the 12-game regular season will take their toll on even the best conditioned athletes, especially as the team relies on the starters to take more snaps than deeper competition.
The odds of a one-deep roster surviving intact and producing at or above expectations are extremely small. The only time in recent memory that we’ve seen such a phenomenon was the 2010 Auburn team.
Barkley is a great QB and is a surefire No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft. But as good as he is, he’s no Cam Newton. If he’s playing in November behind a makeshift offensive line and throwing to backup WR’s, he probably won’t make the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Contrast this situation with the other two teams in the top 3 of the major polls—Alabama and LSU. The three teams are essentially 1a, 1b and 1c, with quite a drop to get to No. 4. Look over the rosters of all three of these teams and it’s obvious who’s the sick man in that group.
If the Trojans somehow survive the 2012 schedule relatively healthy and win the conference title, they will be served up for slaughter by whoever emerges from the Southeastern Conference. Right now, the two teams with the best chances of that have starters that are at least as talented at every position. But the key difference between either the Tide or the Tigers vs. the Trojans is depth.
Neither team carries the limitation of 75 scholarship players, and both are expected to be at or perhaps slightly below the 85-man limit. Both also feature absolutely ferocious defenses, with only slight drop-offs between the starters and the backups to the backups. These guys are loaded.
Despite losing several starters to graduation and the NFL, there is more than enough veteran leadership, experience and talent on both teams to be favored against any team in the country, including any of the Top 10 in the polls.
Put even a remarkably fortunate one-deep USC team on the field against either Alabama or LSU in the 14th game of the season and the result will be a bloodbath not seen since Nero played the fiddle.
If you heroically disagree that USC is a one-deep team, answer this: Can a two-deep USC team compete with a three-deep SEC team? “Maybe,” you say?
In the game of football, contests are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. This is especially true in the college game and when you’re playing against an SEC squad, that rule is brutally and ruthlessly enforced. Up front is where attrition occurs and where depth issues are exposed.
In 2005, an essentially one-deep Alabama team ran off nine straight wins against a relatively easy schedule, only to have its weaknesses up front exposed by deeper LSU and Auburn teams en route to Mike Shula’s only 10-win season.
The front seven of either the 2012 Alabama or LSU teams would pitch a tent and build a campfire in the Trojan backfield, and the Neanderball offenses would pulverize an increasingly tired and thin Trojan front. Barkley will be running for his life under pursuit of Mingo and Trojan linebackers will suddenly fall down in front of Jalston Fowler.
Anyone who thinks that Kiffin’s Trojans can go toe-to-toe for four quarters against either of the SEC’s best and come out on top is smoking some of what the Honey Badger was having.