USC has reached its proving ground to climb into College Football Playoff

USC football has three games to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff, beginning with the biggest rivalry game in recent memory vs. UCLA.

The arrival of Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams has transformed USC overnight from a 4-8 dumpster fire to a bonafide College Football Playoff hopeful. Changing “hopeful” to “contender” is a question of winning the biggest games of the season for the Trojans.

On Saturday, USC will face off with No. 16 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Some of the shine of the matchup may have been lessened when the Bruins lost to Arizona last weekend but that doesn’t change the equation for the men of Troy. Win and they’re in the Pac-12 title game.

Of course, winning is easier said than done.

USC needs to outpace UCLA to prove they’re real for the College Football Playoff

USC and UCLA are evenly matched. Literally.

The Trojan offense led by Caleb Williams averaged 42.4 points per game. Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins average 39.5. The former averages 7.2 yards per play. The latter averages 7.16.

USC’s defense is allowing 24.4 points per game. UCLA’s is allowing 26.4. The Trojans allow 5.96 yards per play. The Bruins allow 5.36.

The offenses on both sides have a huge advantage. The defenses on both sides have been a major weak spot.

If USC’s defense can’t limit the Bruins, they wouldn’t stand a chance against TCU, Michigan or Ohio State. If the Trojan offense can’t get the better of UCLA’s defense, they couldn’t hope to compete with the likes of Georgia.

This is the chance for Williams to prove he’s worthy of the Heisman and for USC to prove they’re worthy of the playoff.

USC will have Eric Gentry and Mario Williams back for CFP push

The Trojans will be getting some much-needed help just in time for the showdown at the Rose Bowl.

Eric Gentry, the 6-foot-6 linebacker transfer from Arizona State, was arguably the most important player on defense in the first half of the season. He was injured against Utah and the defense fell off a cliff.

Getting Gentry back to face UCLA’s exceptional offense could jumpstart USC’s opportunistic defense.

On the offensive side of the ball, Williams will have his two favorite targets back together for the first time in a month. Jordan Addison returned on a pitch count against Colorado and should be 100 percent against the Bruins. Mario Williams is also expected back this week.

In a game that may depend on the quarterback generating 50 points or more, having talents like Addison and Williams available may be critical.

Winning out doesn’t guarantee USC a spot in the College Football Playoff, but beating UCLA is the first step towards convincing the committee they deserve to jump the likes of LSU and Tennessee.

For more College Football news, analysis, opinion and unique coverage by FanSided, including Heisman Trophy and College Football Playoff rankings, be sure to bookmark these pages.

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