Analyzing USC’s final games and potential bowl scenarios

With a loss against Cal, the Trojans' bowl game eligibility is up in the air. Here's how the season shakes out and where USC could land.

USC’s football team has just two weeks remaining in the regular season. The Trojans recently dropped to 5-5 after falling to Cal at home, 15-14. The loss eliminated USC from Pac-12 South contention. Therefore, the Trojans will not be able to defend their 2017 Pac-12 championship. More so, with a 5-5 record, the Trojans will need to win another game in order to qualify for a bowl game.

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@ UCLA (Saturday, Nov. 17): The Trojans will head to the Rose Bowl Stadium to take on their crosstown rivals in their final regular season Pac-12 matchup.  The Chip Kelly-led Bruins are currently 2-8 and are looking to further lower USC’s chance of appearing in any FBS bowl games. Currently, USC stands as a 3.5-point favorite on the road, but the Trojans are 3-7 against Vegas this season, underperforming in the majority of their games.  The Trojans, on the other hand, will look to avenge their homecoming heartbreaker.


Notre Dame (Saturday, Nov. 24): The Trojans will close their season at home versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Currently, Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 in the country. If the season ended today, the Fighting Irish would take on Clemson in the College Football Playoff. USC will look to play spoiler against Notre Dame in this matchup. Since 2013, the two teams have been trading wins back-and-forth in home and away matchups. Nonetheless, a win or even a competitive matchup is not a guarantee given how well coach Brian Kelly’s team has played this season. A statement win for the Trojans would be a big boost for an otherwise disappointing season.

Pac-12 whiparound

Pac-12 South

With USC’s loss to Cal, the Trojans have been fully eliminated from contention in the Pac-12 South. No. 19 ranked Utah, who bested both Arizona and USC will likely finish out the season as champions. There is still room for a potential upset, as Arizona State is in second place. The Utes are currently without their quarterback Tyler Huntley due to a broken collarbone and running back Zack Moss with a knee injury. Utah has two games remaining against Colorado and BYU. The Sun Devils will take on Oregon and the University of Arizona to close out their season.  Two Sun Devil wins would lead head coach Herm Edwards to a Pac-12 championship match in his first season.

Pac-12 North

The No. 8 ranked Washington State Cougars currently lead the Pac-12 North with a 6-1 conference record and 9-1 overall record. The Cougars only loss came to USC back in Week 4 at the Coliseum. Just behind Washington State is the No. 18 ranked University of Washington with their 5-2 conference record. The two will meet in the Apple Cup to close out the 2018 regular season on Nov. 23. With just two weeks remaining it appears likely that Washington State will finish as the Pac-12 North champions.

Pac-12 Championship

Nearly one year ago, the Trojans took down the Stanford Cardinal to claim the Pac-12 championship and book a ticket to the Cotton Bowl. A year later, neither team will be making a repeat appearance. Instead, the Pac-12 will see two new teams contending for the annual championship. Both USC and Stanford experienced less than ideal seasons one year after stellar campaigns.

Bowl Games

Rose Bowl

Had USC still be in contention for the Pac-12 South title, it would have been possible for the Trojans to book a trip to the Rose Bowl if they were to win the Pac-12 championship. Unfortunately, the Trojans will not be representing the Pac-12 in the annual bowl game.

Las Vegas Bowl

Prior to USC’s loss to Cal, the Las Vegas Bowl seemed like the most likely destination for the Trojans. With the loss firmly behind the Trojans, the bowl appears to be somewhat of a long shot. The titular bowl game features the sixth seed of the Pac-12 against the first seed of the Mountain West conference. Fresno State (5-1), No. 25 ranked Boise State (5-1) or No. 23 ranked Utah State (6-0) will play in the game as Mountain West representatives.

Cheez-It Bowl

The bowl game featuring the name of the cheesy snack will take place in Phoenix, Arizona on Dec. 26 at Chase Field, the home of the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks. It will feature the Big-12 conference’s sixth seed and the Pac-12 conference’s seventh seed. It represents the lowest possible bowl option for the Pac-12 under traditional seeding. If selected to the bowl, the Trojans would likely take on Texas Tech or Oklahoma State.

Walk-On's Independence Bowl

The bowl represents one of two last-ditch bowls for the Trojans. Held in Shreveport, Louisiana the game will take place on December 27 at Independence Stadium. Currently, ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura projects that USC will play against Miami. Bonagura and his colleague Mitch Sherman have been predicting bowl games following each week of completed play. Sherman does not believe USC will make a bowl game due to projected losses against UCLA and Notre Dame.

What makes this bowl interesting is that both Miami and USC are among college football’s most historic schools. The two universities have produced countless NFL stars and have been ranked numerous times in national polls. This year, the two teams are fighting to stay alive and in some ways relevant. Just one season ago, both schools were competing for College Football Playoff spots.

First Responders Bowl

The First Responders Bowl also represents a last-ditch bowl game for the Trojans. Held at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas on December 26, the game will pit two teams from the Big-12, Big Ten, ACC or Conference USA conferences. USC would get in as an alternate because a conference could not fulfill their bowl allotment. Erick Smith of USA TODAY Sports is projecting that the last place bowl-eligible Pac-12 team will play in this bowl game.

The bowl game would see USC returning back to the state of Texas, a place where they have recently experienced bad luck. In 2016, the Trojans took on Alabama to open the season at AT&T Stadium. The Crimson Tide rolled all over the Trojans, 52-6. In 2017, the Trojans took on Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes made quick work of the Trojans, 24-7, in Sam Darnold's last appearance in a USC uniform. In 2018, the Trojans traveled to Texas to take on the University of Texas. The Longhorns exacted their revenge and handily defeated USC, 37-14.

No Bowl

Unfortunately, this is not a cheesy name like other bowl games. Instead, it is a reality that USC could face if they cannot defeat UCLA. Should the Trojans not defeat UCLA then they will be less likely to qualify for a  bowl game. Teams with a 6-6 record represent the benchmark to qualify for a bowl game. CBS Sports is predicting that no team with a 5-7 record will qualify for a bowl. USC would then have to upset Notre Dame to potentially qualify for a bowl game in their regular season finale. Presently, 37 teams have become bowl-eligible, meaning that a little under half of the 78 slots have been conditionally filled. Remaining teams could become bowl-eligible by the end of this weekend. ESPN’s Football Power Index predictions have USC at a 27 percent chance of not making a bowl game.


This weekend’s matchup against UCLA carries more weight than defending the Victory Bell alone.

This article will be updated in the weeks leading up to bowl game selection.