November 19, 2011
USC 38, Oregon 35.
On a weekend of seismic losses, the ripple effect out of Eugene will be felt as far and wide as any of them, beginning with Sunday night's new, massively overhauled BCS standings. But the most violent upheaval may be strictly local: For the cowering townsfolk who have been terrorized by Oregon's three-year reign over the Pac-12, someone has slain the beast in its lair.
The loss snaps a 21-game home winning streak dating back to 2008. It snaps a 16-game home winning streak in Pac-12 games, the last eight of them by at least two touchdowns. It snaps a 19-game winning streak in Pac-12 games, regardless of location. Thirty-five points is the fewest Oregon has scored in Eugene since early 2009, in Chip Kelly's second game there as a head coach. Since Kelly was promoted from offensive coordinator, Autzen Stadium is where the rest of the conference went to die. USC has come out not only alive, but — on the golden arm of quarterback Matt Barkley (323 yards, 4 touchdowns) and errant leg of Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado, who missed a field goal to tie as time expired — looking like arguably the class of the conference.
If this upset isn't quite the coup d'etat the Ducks achieved when they violently overthrew the Trojans on this same field in 2009, it's only in the details: USC is ineligible to reclaim the conference crown due to NCAA sanctions, and Oregon remains on track (barring a complete collapse next week against Oregon State) to win the Pac-12 North, play in the Pac-12 Championship Game and advance to the Rose Bowl. But despite the best efforts of a 21-point rally in the third and fourth quarters, the Ducks could not erase the reality of a 38-14 hole, or the new sense of vulnerability that comes with it.
Also coming with it: An inevitable tumble in the BCS standings, which should effectively crush any hope they had of returning to the BCS Championship Game. After last week's thorough dismantling of Stanford in Palo Alto, those hopes were reasonably high — the only hurdles standing between Oregon and another title shot were unbeaten Oklahoma State and voters' distaste for a rematch of two teams from the same conference. After the last 24 hours, they may have no choice: Between Oklahoma State's collapse at Iowa State on Friday night, Oregon's failed comeback bid against USC and Oklahoma's flop at Baylor, the alternatives to an All-SEC rematch no longer exist.
But that is a much longer discussion for the morning, and as of tonight, Oregon is no longer part of it. The cavalry arrived too late to save the defense, the last gasp came up short and the Ducks are resigned to playing out the string for the Rose Bowl. Not a bad consolation prize, considering how few and far between trips to Pasadena were before Kelly's spread-option attack turned them into an army of merciless blurs. Given the circumstances, it's impossible to count it as anything but an opportunity lost.