No. 1 USC flops at Oregon State

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Last year, USC went down as a 41-point favorite at home to Stanford.

On Thursday, USC went down as a 25-point favorite at Oregon State.

What does it mean?

It means lessons from 2007 about no gimmes in college football weren't learned.

It means a team needs to exhibit more than talent alone if it wants to compete for a national championship.

It means the Pac-10's shocking spiral into the muck of irrelevancy is complete.

The top-ranked Trojans thought they could casually wander through an evening in Corvallis, Ore., but an inspired Oregon State squad dumped them on their rear ends, 27-21.

This is the same Oregon State team, now 2-2, that got outclassed at Penn State and lost its season opener at Stanford. This is the same USC team that looked unbeatable after bludgeoning Virginia and Ohio State by a combined count of 87-10.

But these scrappy Beavers obviously have no fear when facing the Trojans, considering they've now beaten them in two of their last three meetings.

How did this happen?

It was nothing fancy. Oregon State just ran right at USC, and the Trojans made true freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers look like a Heisman Trophy candidate, as he cut and sprinted for 186 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns.

The Beavers offensive line, mostly mediocre through the first three games, whipped the USC front seven, a sparkly crew of future NFL draft picks.

USC trailed 21-zip at the half, but when they closed the gap to 21-14 by scoring on their first two possessions of the third quarter, it seemed like the Trojans had snapped out of their slumber and were ready to reassert themselves.


USC produced just two first downs on its first three possessions of the fourth quarter. The third possession ended with QB Mark Sanchez missing terribly on a pass that Beavers safety Greg Laybourn returned 29 yards to the USC 2-yard line.

Rodgers jaunted into the end zone for a 27-14 lead with 2:43 left -- the PAT failed -- and Beavers fans started climbing over the Reser Stadium fences, anticipating a celebratory charge.

Sure, USC, in desperation, fought back to score a TD and float a notion of a comeback, but the onside kick failed, and now the Pac-10 figures to be bystanders while the rest of the country figures out who the leading national title contenders are.

It's hard to imagine the Trojans can win their way back into the race because they play no other teams which are presently ranked.

The only hope for the Trojans probably is a SEC or Big 12 champion with two losses. And that guarantees nothing.

This was a big tumble, and USC doesn't have the sort of remaining schedule that can set it upright again in the collective eyes of pollsters.

Ultimately, what happened Thursday night in Corvallis is this: USC proved it wasn't exempt from the Pac-10 malaise of 2008, and now the conference is decidedly on the outside looking in while the rest of the college football nation battles for spots in the national title hunt.