USC has played in a bowl game every year it has been eligible since 1971, but the Trojans will be home for the holidays this year if they don't win at least three of their last four games.
It won't be easy.
After Saturday's game at Berkeley against 10th-ranked California, USC will play third-ranked Washington on Nov. 9 at the Coliseum, unranked Arizona on Nov. 16 at Tucson and 23rd-ranked UCLA on Nov. 23 at the Coliseum.
All but Arizona will be trying to wrap up bowl invitations or, in the case of Washington, trying to stay in the thick of the race for the national championship.
After losing to Memphis State, Arizona State, Stanford and Notre Dame while compiling a 3-4 record, USC will have to close out the season with at least two victories over three teams ranked among the nation's top 25.
"I would think that if they won three out of four, they'd have a very good chance to go to a bowl game," said Don Andersen, executive director of Anaheim's Freedom Bowl. "They'd have some great wins, and I don't think there are going to be a lot of teams over the 36 (teams) needed to fill the bowl games."
Under a new NCAA rule, six victories over Division I-A competition are required for a bowl bid. A team such as Stanford, for instance, could wind up with a 6-5 record, yet fail to qualify for a postseason game because one of its victories was over Cornell, a Division I-AA team.
"There are some teams out there that might be attractive to bowls that aren't going to qualify because of this rule," Andersen said.
So USC, only 6-5 when it played in the Aloha Bowl in 1985, would probably be even more attractive to bowl scouts this year if it finished with the same record.
"If they can pull off wins against any two of those (ranked) teams, they'd deserve to go to a bowl game," said Marcia J. Cherner, executive director of the Aloha Bowl. "The L.A. market and USC is always a great choice for us, if the choice is there."
A Pacific 10 Conference team has been invited to the Aloha Bowl seven times in nine years, with Arizona, then 7-4, accepting a bid last year.
"The people in Hawaii like to see Pac-10 teams, and we like to bring them here if we can," Cherner said.
But Mike McGee, USC athletic director, said he doesn't know where the Trojans stand.
"I think if we finished on a real strong note, it would obviously get attention," McGee said. "But whether that would be sufficient (to attract a bid), I just don't know at this minute. . . .
"We would be out there battling for one, but it's hard to say. The fact that this has been such a balanced year nationally certainly will help teams on the bubble."
The Freedom Bowl has long courted the Trojans, who enjoy a strong fan base in Orange County and probably will play their home games at Anaheim Stadium while the Coliseum is being renovated during the 1993 season.
"It has been our hope all along to have a California Pac-10 team in the game," Andersen said. "Cal may have played its way out of our game (and into a more prominent bowl game), and perhaps UCLA is on the verge of doing that.
"So that leaves USC and Stanford as two teams that are mathematically still alive."
If barely, in USC's case.
Coach Larry Smith said he hasn't mentioned to his players that three more victories could prolong the Trojans' season.
"What we're trying to do is just win one," Smith said. "If we start looking around and counting things before they happen. . . .
"I think everybody knows (the situation), but I'm just trying to get our guys to concentrate on one game. We made a (vow) a long time ago that, from here on out, we're going to work on it one game at a time, and I'm not going to divert from that now."