8:21 PM EDT, October 31, 2012
The University of Illegal Formations impaired its national title chances with an eight-penalty loss at Stanford and then abandoned the Bowl Championship Series ship with last weekend's 13-penalty defeat at Arizona.
The team ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll currently ranks No. 120 in NCAA categories for penalties and penalty yards.
You don't need a slide rule to draw that straight-line correlation.
Although USC has not been able to control itself on the field, incredibly, it still controls a lot of things. No team, including No. 1 Alabama, will have more impact on how this year's postseason plays out.
Did we not say in August that USC would be a major force?
USC can dictate which teams play in the national title game, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and any number of other bowls.
"They can be the spoiler, no doubt," Rose Bowl executive Kevin Ash said this week.
The Trojans control the title fates of Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame. USC can still play in the Rose Bowl, or contribute to a chain reaction that prevents any Pac 12 school from playing in Pasadena.
Grab a copy of this week's BCS standings and follow along.
Kansas State stands at No. 2 but can't be assured of staying there if Alabama, Oregon and Notre Dame all finish undefeated. USC, though, with wins against Oregon and/or Notre Dame, can help pave Kansas State's path.
USC can lend a hand in Notre Dame's getting to the championship by defeating Oregon this Saturday, or help Oregon get to the title game by defeating Notre Dame on Nov. 24.
The Trojans could also dictate the endgame by losing to both Oregon and Notre Dame.
Voters, in a final analysis, might have to assess how the Ducks and Irish fared against a common road opponent: USC.
What if Oregon wipes USC out on Saturday, but Notre Dame, three weeks later, only squeaks out victory on the same field?
Oregon might also get the chance to beat USC twice if the teams were to meet in the Pac-12 Conference title game. Or, USC could lose Saturday to Oregon but defeat the Ducks in a rematch.
The Trojans' big plans went to dust in the desert last week, but it turns out other people had plans too.
USC can assist Oregon into the BCS title game and help leave the league with no other Pac-12 team available for the Rose Bowl. The Rose, remember, can replace Oregon with another Pac-12 school only if that team finishes in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.
After No. 4 Oregon this week, Pac-12 schools in the BCS standings are Oregon State (11), Stanford (14), USC (17) and Arizona (22).
Oregon State (6-1) might get bumped out of the top 14 with just one more defeat, and the Beavers play host to Oregon on Nov. 24.
Oregon State's first loss at Washington last Saturday was potentially a huge blow to Rose Bowl contingency plans. The Granddaddy of bowls would have been tickled to welcome at-large Oregon State in the event its only loss had been to Oregon.
The Ducks have played in two of the last three Rose Bowl games; Oregon State hasn't been to the Jan.1 game since 1965.
Two-loss Stanford is already on the BCS cut line at No. 14 this week, with a looming Nov. 17 date at Oregon.
If there are no eligible Pac-12 schools from which to choose, the Rose Bowl would have to dip into the available at-large pool.
Say Oregon edges Notre Dame out for the No. 2 BCS spot. That could give the Rose Bowl access to the free-agent Irish. "That would be kind of cool," Ash said.
Notre Dame's last appearance in the Rose Bowl game, in 1925, featured Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen.
If the final BCS order is Alabama-Oregon, though, the Sugar Bowl would get first selection for losing its Southeastern Conference anchor.
The Sugar would normally substitute in an SEC school — but maybe not if Notre Dame is sitting there at 12-0.
The Rose Bowl could end up with an SEC school. Think of Louisiana State at 10-2, or maybe two-loss Georgia or Florida.
In 2006, remember, LSU seemed a lock to come west. The school even presold 32,000 Rose Bowl tickets in preparation for that season's BCS fallout.
The two Rose Bowl scenarios were USC vs. LSU, or LSU vs. Michigan.
The only thing that could derail the plan was unranked UCLA's shocking Pete Carroll's powerhouse and Florida somehow overtaking Michigan for No. 2 in the BCS standings.
Well, guess what … UCLA shocked USC, 13-9, and Florida lobbied its way past Michigan.
Florida played Ohio State for the BCS title and USC contractually slotted back to the Rose Bowl to play Michigan.
"We tracked them until the very end," Ash said of LSU.
It makes Ash's head hurt to talk about scenarios this early. "It's really fun," he said of the speculation, "but the bottom line is there is a lot of football to play."
Ash could not deny, though, USC's role in determining a lot of these outcomes.
The Trojans, it turns out, still have "unfinished business."
It's just not the business they wanted to finish.
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