What we've learned halfway through the year
October, 14, 2012
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
SEATTLE -- All season, Matt Barkley and Lane Kiffin have maintained that they're OK with not blowing teams out, OK with winning ugly against lesser competition.
And their approaches in recent weeks have given credence to that. Kiffin made little attempt to break open Saturday's game against Washington, rather relying on the run game to slowly grind it out against a not-terribly-impressive Huskies squad.
But the truth is that dominant college football teams do blow their opponents out, at least on occasion. It's just how it goes, and to fight it may not be the best idea. If the Trojans end up only squeaking by most of the teams on their schedule, then they're probably going to end up outside of the top two in the BCS rankings two months from now.
Evidence: USC dropped a spot from No. 10 to No. 11 in the Harris poll, which helps determine the BCS rankings, after Saturday's 24-14 road win. The Oregon State team that jumped it beat BYU 42-24, also on the road. The victories were of similar caliber over similar opponents. The difference is that the Beavers made it look a little better.
"It wasn't a glamorous win," Barkley said Saturday. "But if we're scoring and winning, then I'm happy with that."
Asked, then, if USC needed a glamorous win at some point this season, Barkley nodded.
"It'll happen," he said. "I think it'll happen. But we're not aiming for that."
Maybe they should be. Maybe a bit of a different approach is needed, replete with more risks and more passes. The good thing is that the Trojans are heading into their easiest remaining game this season on Saturday against Colorado.
USC has opened as a 40-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com. If USC doesn't win by more than 30, it's not a good sign. Because the good teams are going to roll in after that, starting with a road game against an Arizona team that has played everybody tough, except Oregon.
Then the Ducks themselves will come to the Coliseum 20 days from today. It crept up sort of quickly, but it has been on the Trojans' radar for a while now.
Kiffin indirectly referenced those upcoming battles in his postgame news conference Saturday.
"Every game forever's not gonna be able to be like (this)," Kiffin said. "We're gonna have to score more at some point. We have played some lower-ranked offenses compared to what's coming, so every game will be different.
"But the bottom line is to win the game."
He's basically right. As long as USC keeps winning, it'll be in the national-championship conversation. A 10-point win isn't going to completely burst the Trojans' bubble. But if you can do both -- meaning win and win big -- then why not?
USC is now halfway through the 2012 regular season. A 5-1 record is by no means a devastating mark in six games. But there's progress to be made -- or "room for improvement," as running back Silas Redd put it.
Asked where he thought his team was at the halfway point, Barkley said he didn't have a definite answer. Then he summed it up succinctly.
"We're not there yet," he said.
'There' is where a lot of USC fans -- and plenty of national experts -- thought this team would be by now.
It's also where the Trojans need to be in the next two or three weeks, but there's still time.