Stanford not ready to give up status as a Pac-12 power

LOS ANGELES -- When Stanford coach David Shaw addressed his team Saturday morning, he asked for those who had participated in a Pac-12 title game to stand up. Nearly 50 players did.

Once they were standing, he made a comparison.

"He said, 'No one in the other locker room has played there,'" senior linebacker Kevin Anderson said.

The message was clear: Stanford, not USC, has been the Pac-12 power over the past several years. Stanford's players, not USC's, have been the ones to play in meaningful games.

And in the Cardinal's 41-31 upset of the sixth-ranked Trojans, it showed. For a stretch in the second half, Stanford converted on six consecutive third-down attempts, effectively shortening the game and rendering the Trojans' high-powered offense useless. When plays needed to be made, Stanford made them, and it was really that simple.

Two weeks ago, this reality would have been hard to imagine. After a strong finish in 2014, the Cardinal came into the year with high expectations, but then ... poof. In a 16-6 loss to Northwestern in the season opener, Stanford's offense disappeared. And with it went most of the country's belief in the Cardinal.

"You can't blame the rest of the world for feeling that way, right?" Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said.

But Shaw maintains his confidence never wavered.

"The difference between football coaches and the rest of the sane world: We understand sometimes you don't play well, and outside of the football coach world, people look for somebody to blame," Shaw said. 'It's gotta be the play calling. It's gotta be personal usage, it's gotta be this, it's gotta be that. Guess what? Sometimes you just don't play well. We didn't play well the first game, for whatever reason."

It's a lesson USC can learn from. Not necessarily because it played that poorly -- the offense was actually very effective for most of the game -- but because it is now the team in the position of needing to bounce back.

"This is the turning point in the season that can define us," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. "The biggest thing is for leaders like us, when we come in on Monday, that everything from tonight is out the door. We must move on completely to [Arizona State]. I believe there's a lot left for us out there this season."

What Kessler said is exactly what you'd expect a leader to say, and it's the proper approach, but after the Trojans openly embraced expectations for a run to the College Football Playoff, it's fair to wonder how they will respond. An early-season loss has the potential to ruin a team's confidence, and in other cases -- such as Stanford's -- it can serve as a wake-up call.

It's been proven a one-loss team can make the playoff, but that can no longer be the focus. Instead, the Trojans need to embrace the cliche and take it one game at a time, because another loss, by their own set of standards, will mean a failed season. It's how they wanted it.