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ASU vs. USC: The national implications

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The Sun Devils can probably climb back into AP top 25 if they beat USC.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In spite of Arizona State's disappointing 42-28 loss to Stanford, the Sun Devils fell to only 26 (First in "Others Receiving Votes") in the AP poll, which is three spots lower than last week.

The season goals haven't changed, as Todd Graham strives to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship. Even though it's still early in the year, the Sun Devils must treat the USC game like a must-win situation.

Coming into 2013, the Trojans were ranked 24th in the country. Washington State shocked the world by defeating USC 10-7 on the road, so the preseason hype began to fade away.

The stout Trojans' defense is hard to stymie, as the traditionally explosive offensive is rather lethargic under first-year starting quarterback Cody Kessler. Lane Kiffin's team heads into the valley of the sun 3-1 overall.

ASU against USC should be one of the key matchups that decides the Pac-12 South champion. The game will be televised on Saturday via ESPN 2 at 7:30 p.m. When the final whistle blows, how will the national rankings be impacted?

A Sun Devil Win

Guess who's back, back again, the Sun Devils are back, so tell a friend. It'd be hard to leave ASU outside the AP top 25 if they win. Todd Graham and Co. may jump up to 21-22 at highest, with 24 or 25 being the most likely destinations.

In the week five games, borderline ranked squads have big opportunities. At No. 29 in the country (fourth in "Others Receiving Votes") Central Florida hosts 12th ranked South Carolina. University of Arizona gets its first legitimate test at No. 16 Washington. The Sun Devil faithful should also keep their eyes on a Virginia Tech that received four votes at Georgia Tech which garnered 30 votes.

Meanwhile, ASU may get assisted by some of the best teams in the country. Notre Dame (22nd) welcomes 14th ranked Oklahoma, and assuming the Sooners take care of business, the Fighting Irish would be treading on thin ice.

The perennial favorites and top ranked Alabama Crimson Tride take on No. 21 Ole Miss and many experts believe the Rebels are a trendy upset pick. Staying at the top, Braxton Miller is expected to return for fourth ranked Ohio State against 23rd Wisconsin. Despite being the underdogs, the Badgers can't maintain the status quo without pulling off the upset.

The odds makers have ASU as clear favorites this week, therefore a massive rise in the rankings is out of the question, regardless of the margin of victory.

A Trojans Win

Because of the Trojans' early season blunders, the AP voters didn't give them any votes this week. In my opinion, defeating ASU on the road should put USC back on the map in the range of 30 to 35. Still, a Trojans' win might not be enough to regain footing.

The problem being for the Trojans: The potential win could discredit the Sun Devils instead of validating themselves.

Navy and Rutgers currently occupy the back half of the listed AP teams with one vote. USC at 3-1 won't be close to regaining its historic dominance, but one vote isn't asking much. Based on previous trends, when in doubt, the AP tends to side with the marquee names over the pedestrian schools. The Trojans obviously fit the bill of notable universities based on brand recognition and previous success.

A Sun Devil Loss

The train belongs on the train tracks, and disasters occur if the plan goes awry. Assuming the Sun Devils lose, the season would instantly be considered a bust. There are no if, ands or buts about it. It's black and white, ASU can't afford to lose to USC and fall to 0-2 in Pac-12 play.

Since Todd Graham took over the reigns, the image surrounding the Arizona State has changed drastically. ASU no longer beats itself, as the turnover numbers are much better than the Dennis Erickson era and penalties and mental mistakes aren't an issue. All those conclusions may seem premature if Kelly and company fall short against USC.

Regarding the rankings, the Sun Devils could lose all of their AP votes with a loss. The degree of free-fall comes down to the final margin of victory. If the Trojans barely edge out the Sun Devils, maybe the maroon and gold sit at 35th or so if they get lucky.

A USC Loss

Falling to the Sun Devils puts the Trojans at 3-2 and 0-2 in conference. The odds would be heavily stacked against them in that predicament. On the national scale, USC losing won't be surprising or make significant noise.

Cody Kessler and his team garner lots of media attention and scrutiny from the tough Los Angeles market. The critics are going to be loud and clear if the Sun Devils win, especially if the game isn't even competitive. Technically losing by seven or less would be a decent showing for the Trojans; but good effort points aren't handed out to a program that demands top-notch results.

The Week Five AP Top 25

Rank Team Record Votes Previous
1 Alabama (56) 3-0 1,496 1
2 Oregon (4) 3-0 1,418 2
3 Clemson 3-0 1,340 3
4 Ohio State 4-0 1,320 4
5 Stanford 3-0 1,270 5
6 LSU 4-0 1,167 6
7 Louisville 4-0 1,088 7
8 Florida State 3-0 1,049 8
9 Georgia 2-1 1,029 9
10 Texas A&M 3-1 1,011 10
11 Oklahoma State 3-0 849 11
12 South Carolina 2-1 828 12
13 UCLA 3-0 798 13
14 Oklahoma 3-0 689 14
15 Miami (FL) 3-0 687 16
16 Washington 3-0 559 17
17 Northwestern 4-0 477 18
18 Michigan 4-0 450 15
19 Baylor 3-0 441 20
20 Florida 2-1 414 19
21 Mississippi 3-0 342 21
22 Notre Dame 3-1 256 22
23 Wisconsin 3-1 130 24
24 Texas Tech 4-0 127 25
25 Fresno State 3-0 110 NR
Others Receiving Votes: Arizona State 41, Georgia Tech 30, Maryland 24, UCF 19, Nebraska 13, Northern Illinois 9, Arizona 8, Virginia Tech 4, Michigan State 3, Missouri 2, Rutgers 1, Navy 1