In the afterglow of Clemson’s national championship victory Monday, the Associated Press released its final rankings for the 2016-17 college football season. The list placed USC as the No. 3 team, marking the program’s first return to the top five since 2008.
The distinction, however early, is a final mark of the massive turnaround led by head coach Clay Helton. The AP ranked USC only beneath Clemson and Alabama, and ahead of Washington, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
This year’s team entered the season ranked No. 20 before taking a brutal 52-6 beating at the hands of Alabama to open the season in Arlington. The defeat dropped the Trojans out of the rankings, and subsequent losses to Stanford and Utah took the team even lower as they fell to a 1-3 record.
But then the Trojans started winning. After righting their record to above .500, a mid-season 26-13 stunner over No. 4 Washington took the team to No. 15 and a rivalry win over Notre Dame lifted them into the top ten. USC rounded out the season ranked No. 9 when they took down No. 5 Penn State in a thrilling Rose Bowl finale.
The top-three ranking comes as a continuation of this turnaround, which began with the decision to start redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. The next step lies in which recruits sign with the Trojans on Feb. 1 and how the Trojans can continue to build.