Few could have imagined ever asking. Even fewer could have foretold weighing a less-than-obvious answer.
And yet, here we are. We have to ask: Have the Arizona State Sun Devils surpassed the USC Trojans in the Pac-12?
This question, again, might seem ludicrous on its face. USC is a premier football program. They have been to seven Bowl Games in the past eight years. Once upon a time, they were staples in the National Championship conversation. More recently, and only slightly less impressive, they’ve been on the peripherals of that discussion.
Arizona State cannot say the same. They’ve finished three or more games over .500 just once over the past half-decade. Their biggest win came in the Sun Bowl during that time. No one ever entertains them as a powerhouse capable of party-crashing the tippy top of the Pac-12, which is currently headlined by Utah and Oregon.
After that, though, the conference is surprisingly wide open. The second tier consists of any number of teams, including Arizona State, USC, California, Stanford, and Washington. There is a chance that ASU is the best of that second-shelf gaggle.
Their Bowl Game appearances may not be as impressive, but they’re still getting into those end-of-the-year contests in general. They’ve made a championship affair in eight of the last nine years, posting a record of 3-5.
Looking strictly at the present, they’ve commandeered a greater share of the national focus compared to USC as well. According to 247 Sports, the project as the fourth-best program in the Pac 12 next season, with eight four-star recruits on the roster—the second most in the entire conference.
Last year’s team laid a replicable blueprint for future iterations. Head coach Herm Edwards has installed a gritty defensive system. ASU ranked 35th in points per game last season and has even more defensive playmakers on the docket this time around.
This isn’t to say ASU is definitively better than USC overall. The latter is entering a transitioning period. They’ve had a lot of turnovers, and their recruiting class needs time to reset. Their offensive system coupled with a knack for inflating quarterback stats should give them a clear path to regaining status in the Pac-12.
For now, though, the debate between ASU and USC isn’t particularly close. What once wasn’t a question still isn’t a question—just for entirely different reasons.
After years of trailing USC in the popularity and competition rankings, ASU has moved in front of them.