Not only should USC's spot not be a guarantee, I can think of at least one scenario where an unbeaten USC gets bumped from the national title game:
Isn't it conceivable that if a team from the Big 12 goes unbeaten and a team from the SEC goes unbeaten, that both would have a stronger claim to the BCS title game than USC?
Consider that given how woeful the PAC-10 seems to be, USC's best win appears to be over a horribly overrated Ohio State team. USC appears to be getting credit for OSU being a great team from the theoretical preseason, rather than a rather ordinary Top 20 team they are in reality. Still: Count that as one "quality" win for USC. And, perusing the rest of USC's schedule, that appears to be the only one -- especially after this past weekend's Pac-10 massacre at the hands of the Mountain West Conference.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 champ (say, Oklahoma or Missouri) -- to go unbeaten -- will have to beat
Then there's USC, which will have beaten 5 teams that couldn't beat 5 teams from the Mountain West last weekend. (And please don't suggest Oregon in a defense of USC's schedule: They're going to be playing USC -- if not the rest of the season -- with a backup QB and barely beat Big Ten mediocrity Purdue.)
If this plays out as described above (B12 champ, SEC champ, USC all unbeaten), I am quite confident that the computer rankings will be rightfully listing both the Big 12 and SEC champs ahead of USC. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about the human voters, where cognitive dissonance seems to be the main criteria for decision-making:
Uh, turns out Ohio State isn't the team we thought it was, but let's credit USC as if they were anyway (then overlook the not-good-enough-for-Mountain-West remainder of USC's schedule).
THAT is a championship resume? Or, at least, a more impressive resume than the one proffered by an unbeaten champ of the Big 12 and SEC?
Fortunately, the way these things tend to play out, there is very little chance that all 3 -- USC, the Big 12 champ and the SEC champ -- all go unbeaten. More likely, USC goes unbeaten through its soft schedule and one of the 2 "power" conference champs manages to go unbeaten. (Messier still: USC goes unbeaten and the Big 12 and SEC champs each have one loss.)
I won't go so far as to suggest that a 1-loss champ from the Big 12 and SEC are each more worthy of the BCS title game than USC -- but USC's schedule hardly counts as difficult and it isn't nearly as treacherous as the one that would be handled by an unbeaten Big 12 and SEC champ.
USC is a great team -- but you can't deny that its resume will read a little thin. (Even the sorry ACC champ, whoever it is, will have likely played a tougher, more top-heavy schedule than USC.)
In fact: Given the way the Mountain West just dominated the Pac-10 this past weekend, you could make the case that an unbeaten MWC champ BYU would have played a tougher schedule than USC.
I'm just saying: USC is obviously a great team, and you can't blame them for their conference laying an egg this season.
But I take issue with automatically slotting them into the national title game after they beat an overrated Ohio State team and with a Charmin-soft conference schedule ahead of them.
It seems premature at best and ludicrous at worst... especially when their schedule strength distantly trails that of the SEC, Big 12 and -- arguably -- even the Mountain West.
PS: For more on USC and the "Not so fast" theory, see Mr. Saturday (ne SMQ), Matt Hinton of Y! Sports.