With insults and jokes being lobbed at the Pac-10 from the rest of the college football world this season, at least the conference could point to its vessel of vindication, a Southern California squad that appeared destined to play for the national championship.
As it has since 2002, the Trojans would raise the level of the entire family, which can use a pick-me-up after a nonconference showing (a 12-12 record through the season’s first four weeks, including 0-5 against the Mountain West) that is tough to defend, despite the Pac-10 scheduling more courageously than any other BCS league.
On Thursday, however, USC’s comfort cruise to the title game was derailed by Oregon State, a win the Beavers would not dare throw back, but one that came at the expense of the entire Pac-10.
“We weren’t ready for what we needed to do,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We felt like we had good preparation, we thought we did everything we needed to, and when we were out there, it just didn’t feel like it.”
The 27-21 result quickly reverberated throughout the country, with schools speculating on what it means to their championship dreams.
Penn State? Hey, no reason to at least talk about it. Three weeks ago, the Nittany Lions routed Oregon State.
Brigham Young? A better chance than you think.
Oklahoma? Missouri? Feeling good.
Whoever wins the SEC? Salivating.
After its collective 3-7 showing two weeks ago, the Pac-10 had to recuse itself from the top-conference debate. Now, it might be absent from the national-title discussion.
SEC partisans, in particular, were beginning to construct strength-of-schedule cases on why an undefeated team from their leagues would deserve to play for No. 1 more than the Trojans.
“Let’s see what happens, because what if Georgia goes undefeated, along with Oklahoma and (USC),” Mark Womack, SEC executive associate commissioner, said last week. “Look at their schedule and who they are playing and see how that would match up with other undefeated teams.”
Those arguments can be tabled.
USC might not impress enough voters, given its remaining schedule and the Pac-10’s current reputation, to land in the top two of the BCS standings over a one-loss team from the SEC, Big 12 or Big Ten.
The consolation for the Pac-10? Once again, it took one of its own to knock off USC, which has not dropped a nonconference regular-season game since 2001.
“People that think the Pac-10 teams are not going to play like this, they’re going to,” Carroll said. “That’s the way it is. It’s the reality.”
This was supposed to be Carroll’s best team at Troy, with talent everywhere, including NFL prospects galore at running back and linebacker. Quarterback Mitch Mustain, who transferred to USC after leading Arkansas to a 10-win season in 2006, was recently dropped to fourth on the depth chart, behind third-stringer Garrett Green — who began the season at wide receiver.
Hey, take that, SEC.
It is possible that this season could play out like the last two have, with the Trojans navigating through the rest of the Pac-10 schedule and clobbering the Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl, eliciting suggestions that they are the best team in the land.
Could a perfect storm of circumstances — like those enabling a two-loss Louisiana State team to play for No. 1 last season — occur, enabling USC and the Pac-10 to be a national-title player? Sure.
But for the conference that has seen two UCLA quarterbacks injured on consecutive noncontact plays in spring practice, Washington denied an overtime period on a most questionable excessive-celebration penalty and ASU’s Lou Groza Award-winning kicker have a field goal blocked in overtime, such good fortune appears to be lacking.
“We’re not giving up,” Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “This is a tough team. We have a good road ahead of us, even though it sure doesn’t look like it right now.”
Most of the attention on Rutgers this week has been on the swing that quarterback Mike Teel took at teammate Glen Lee after an interception in last week’s loss against Navy. The greater issue, however, is what has happened to a Scarlet Knights program that was once considered one of the biggest rising stars in college football.
Rutgers is 0-3 for the first time in Greg Schiano’s eight seasons as coach. Today’s game against championship subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) Morgan State looks like a win, but the Big East schedule could be a struggle, especially if Teel (one touchdown, six interceptions) does not rebuild his sagging confidence.
“I understand the frustration of Rutgers fans,” Schiano said. “They got a taste if what it can be like (with bowl trips the last three years), and right now, they probably want to revert to the old feeling. There’s no need to revert to the old feeling. It will be turned around. We’ll be back winning games.”
• North Carolina at Miami (Fla.): (9 a.m., ESPN2) This is the best of an uninspiring group of early games. Can the Tar Heels bounce back from last week’s loss, minus starting quarterback T.J. Yates (broken ankle)?
• Tennessee at Auburn: (12:30 p.m., Ch. 5) Considering that coach Philip Fulmer has George W. Bush-like approval ratings among Volunteers fans, he should not mind that this game is on the road. On ESPN, Wisconsin is at Michigan to kick off a season-defining three-game stretch — Ohio State and Penn State follow.
• Alabama at Georgia: (4:45 p.m., ESPN) Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a Georgia alumnus, told players that the Bulldogs are wearing black jerseys “for a (expletive) funeral.” And why does ESPN seem to consistently get better SEC games than CBS? At 5 p.m. on Ch. 15, Virginia Tech gives Nebraska its first test.
Chase Daniel: Each game, the Missouri quarterback continues his assault on the record book. He completed a Big 12-record 20 in a row en route to a career-high 439 yards passing against Buffalo last week.
Knowshon Moreno: The Georgia running back’s athleticism will not be disputed by Arizona State fans. His leap to a touchdown over two ASU defenders last week rates as one of the top plays of the season.
Javon Ringer: See “Big gainer.”
Sam Bradford: The Oklahoma quarterback did not play last week, giving his arm ample rest for a Texas Christian defense that has allowed only 174 yards a game.
Rey Maualuga: It is always nice when a defensive player enters the Heisman debate, but the Southern California linebacker is likely no longer in the conversation after Thursday’s loss at Oregon State.
THREE AND OUT
• Penn State, under legal threat from the Coyotes and NHL, changed its “White Out” promotion to “White House.” Barring a lawsuit from the federal government, fans at Beaver Stadium will be wearing white when the Nittany Lions host Illinois today.
• Yes, Greg Robinson has been a disaster at Syracuse, but the manner in which his self-promoting boss, athletic director Daryl Gross, is handling the situation indicates that the problems run deeper than the head coach.
• The SEC can crow about having a record five teams in the top 10 two weeks ago. (The conference has four this week.) However, the most impressive all-time rankings feat still belongs to the old Big Eight: Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado were Nos. 1-3 in the final AP poll of 1971.
The Javon Ringer-for-Heisman campaign is starting to heat up at Michigan State as the running back compiles yardage at computer-like speed.
After running for 282 yards against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 13, Ringer added 201 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame last week. He is second in the country in rushing with 699 yards — 17 behind Donald Brown of Connecticut — and third in all-purpose yardage.
Said defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi: “I’ll put my vote in for Javon. That (Heisman talk) needs to start getting picked up more, because that guy is a machine.”
Two things that could hamper Ringer: Michigan State’s schedule and his workload.
The Spartans’ top opponent thus far is unranked California, which held Ringer to 89 yards. The Big Ten slate will provide a legit barometer for Ringer — if he does not get worn out.
The 5-foot-9, 202-pounder has a nation-high 143 rushes, the most through four games since Troy Davis of Iowa State had 149 in 1996.
LESSONS FROM LAST WEEK
• Football is a violent sport, and the chances of a catastrophic injury should never be dismissed. Ball State receiver Dante Love’s career is likely over after a spinal injury, Washington State quarterback Gary Rogers (spine) will miss the rest of the season, and South Florida linebacker Bruce Mompremier (neck) is out indefinitely. That the prognoses were not worse merits prayers of thanks.
• Vanderbilt is 4-0 and in the rankings, but do not bet on it breaking a 26-year bowl-less streak just yet. The Commodores won their first four games in 2005 — and had Jay Cutler at quarterback — before losing six straight.
• When Texas gets into Big 12 play, its pass defense could be in trouble. Three games against Florida Atlantic, Texas-El Paso and Rice have resulted in a national pass-defense ranking of 103. What happens when Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell and Todd Reesing take aim at the Longhorns?
The Big 12 starts heating up the first weekend in October, as Texas visits surprising Colorado and Missouri travels to Nebraska.
This report includes information from other news sources.