The 'dark cloud' surrounding USC

USC-Notre Dame is typically regarded as the greatest and most historic intersectional rivalry in college football, meaning it's supposed to be the best series between two schools not in the same conference.

That, then, would appear to indicate that both of the schools involved in the rivalry are among the most well-respected football programs in the country. And that largely remains true in 2011 for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But for the USC Trojans?

Things have changed in recent years. The same level of respect that used to be there for the Southern California squad doesn't appear to remain on a national scale, for a number of different reasons ranging from the NCAA sanctions placed upon the team to the hiring of a head coach many in the football world disrespect.

And, with the latest iteration of that intersectional rivalry looming in four days' time, it's an interesting time to take note of the college football landscape and USC's place in it. The Trojans are 5-1, not having blown anybody out but having steadily built up the wins, yet they remain unranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time in school history with that record.

Arizona State, for example, is 4-2, with losses to Illinois and Oregon, yet the Sun Devils are tied for 24th on the poll. Notre Dame itself is 4-2, with losses to Michigan and South Florida, yet the Fighting Irish have 20 more votes than the Trojans and are just the second team outside the rankings.

There exists mounting evidence that the nation as a whole reserves some sort of bias for USC in the current college football world -- deserving or not.

"I don't kmow if that has to do with us on probation or just people don't like us," fifth-year senior running back Marc Tyler said Tuesday, when asked if he sensed a national lack of respect surrounding his squad. "I don't really pay attention to that. We can't go to a bowl game anyway."

Head coach Lane Kiffin indirectly brought it up last week when he complained to the local media during a conference call that the press coverage of his team -- locally and nationwide -- was a lot more negative than he expected. He didn't get into specifics of why he felt that was the case, but he did expand on the feeling of gloom surrounding the team.

"I just think in general that’s probably the dark cloud over us," Kiffin said Tuesday. "It was obvious last week. We discussed that, the negativity around us. Going on the road and winning by 21 points – and the first 5-1 team not to be ranked in the history of USC – I just think it’s the dark cloud over us.

"But it has nothing to do with these players and the way that they work."