Historically, the USC Trojans are one of the biggest brands in college football. The program has been anything but consistent since the departure of Pete Carroll, who led the team to the national championship in 2004, and a claimed title in 2003, when they were left out of the BCS Title Game despite No. 1 rankings in the AP and Coaches Polls.
After Carroll’s departure, Lane Kiffin, interim coach Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkisian, and Clay Helton—the head coach since 2015 after a brief interim stint in 2013—have combined for an 86-45 total record with a 66-30 mark in the Pac-12. That is far from horrific, but the Trojans haven’t come particularly close to true national title contention in that time, and only have one conference title and Rose Bowl trip, under Helton in 2017.
In the post-Carroll era, the Trojans have largely taken a backseat to Stanford, Oregon, and Washington in the Pac-12, the latter two of whom are the only teams in the league to reach the College Football Playoff. Even so, long-time Los Angeles Times columnist and ESPN Around The Horn panelist Bill Plaschke thinks that USC overshadows the rest of the conference, and would be well-suited to leave for independence.
“I’ve said that a million times. They’re bigger than the PAC-12,” he told 247Sports during a recent interview. “Yes, they should go independent. They don’t need the PAC-12. They are way beyond the PAC-12.”
Had a blast chatting with legendary LA sports columnist @BillPlaschke about a variety of topics ranging from his 2001 “Westwood, Ho!” column where he claimed LA was a “Bruin football town” to the current state of #USC football. Full interview here: https://t.co/4BAAma7RSspic.twitter.com/hXzMc8UgpY
— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) June 20, 2021
“I’m sorry, they don’t need to be in Oregon State’s TV rights world. They don’t need to be in Washington State’s orbit. They should be independent just like Notre Dame and cut their own deal,” Plaschke continued, bringing up one of USC’s biggest rivals, and the most notable independent team in the sport.
USC could probably make it work as an independent, and do pretty well for itself. Had they made this move in the early 2000s, he may have been spot on, given the star power the program turned out like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.
Now, however, it is hard to think that USC would carry the weight that Notre Dame, with its incredibly unique national fan base does. If we start to see other programs look to strike out on their own, like Texas, perhaps USC could ride that wave. However, the upcoming expansion of the College Football Playoff, which could hurt Notre Dame because of the importance of conference titles, may wipe out those advantages. The Pac-12’s struggles would not be nearly as magnified, and USC would have a pair of playoff berths to its name, had the 12-team system already been in place.
Plaschke’s proposal also doesn’t take into account the rest of USC’s athletic department. Football rules the roost, as it does at many schools, but it doesn’t seem fair for the rest of the Trojans clubs to be parked in the Mountain West or another smaller league, and independence isn’t really feasible in other sports.
While it is unlikely, there have been some murmurs about a move like this. AD Mike Bohn said that “everything is on the table” with regards to conference membership, during an interview with 247. He’s walked that back recently, with the hire of new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff.
“I don’t think anyone is in position to make declarative statements about the future,” Bohn told The Mercury News. “But I know what the Pac-12 can be when USC is at its best. We can take advantage of this opportunity to reset. George brings a brilliant skill set to the table.”