November 14, 2009
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Stanford 55, USC 21. There's no point here in declaring "The King is Dead," because the king was already dead. Oregon emphatically ended USC's seven-year reign at the top of the Pac-10 by administering the worst beating of the Pete Carroll era three weeks ago in Eugene; the passing . What Stanford did today was more like dig up the king's corpse and drag it around the village for public display, just to affirm the reality to the disbelieving townsfolk: Do you see that the tyrant is but flesh and blood and can victimize you no longer? And then drawing and quartering the thing for good measure.
Sorry for the grisly imagery, but there's no other way to classify USC's descent into utter mediocrity. This was no lapse -- all of the worst aspects of the last four seasons were on morbid display, and every one of them has become all too familiar from the Trojans' previous collapses: The Trojans were humiliated at home by Stanford, again. They were dealt their worst defeat of the Carroll era, again. They were baffled and pulverized by a top-tier rushing offense for more than 300 yards on the ground, again. They shot themselves in the foot with an ugly turnover margin, again. They failed to stretch the field in the passing game, again. Faced with mounting adversity in a competitive situation, they quickly yielded to a blowout down the stretch, again.
There's no novelty, no numbers to dissect, no depressing new lows to contemplate this time. No possible way to shrug it off as an anomaly or calculate how the Rose Bowl is still within reach. Just acceptance of the reality, for this year at least, that the Holiday Bowl is now the best-case scenario, and probably not even a likely one. With four straight rotten performances -- aside from the debacles against Oregon and Stanford, there were also the narrow escapes from a defensive collapse against Oregon State and an offensive collapse at Arizona State, and the last-second escape from South Bend could make five straight rotten outings if you're so inclined -- and ranked conference contender Arizona still on the schedule, the Las Vegas Bowl seems more apt at this point. The BCS plunder will be appropriated elsewhere -- and with it, quite possibly, the loyalties of some of the demanding fans who made the Coliseum a ghost town by the time Tyler Gaffney punched in the Cardinal's final touchdown.
And though the crown almost certainly will not fall to Stanford (barring some mathematical miracle at the top of the Pac-10 standings), the Cardinal clearly are the hottest, most frightening team on the West Coast at the moment, off genuine, physical beatdowns of Oregon and USC in back-to-back weeks. The path from the hopelessly overmatched bottom dweller Harbaugh took over to the soon-to-be top 20 outfit with consecutive blowouts of the league's biggest heavyweights is staggering, especially when you consider that they're trotting out a redshirt freshman quarterback.
There will be more time to consider the Cardinal's startling turnaround in full, but suffice to say this team probably deserves better than the usual three-fourths-full stadium when Cal and Notre Dame come to Palo Alto the next two weeks.