As the final seconds ticked off on the Coliseum scoreboard’s clock on Saturday, the Trojan faithful who remained in their seats had perhaps just witnessed the end of an era.
Some might argue that USC’s run as the West Coast’s top dog ended well before Oregon’s 53-32 comeback win, but the reality remains the same: Oregon left the Coliseum as the new, undisputed kings of the Pac-10. The Ducks have won 16 of their last 17 Pac-10 games and look like legitimate national championship contenders.
Although the Pac-10 title is now out of reach for USC, all is not lost for the Trojans.
With five contests left on the schedule, including rivalry games with Notre Dame and UCLA, there is plenty to play for throughout the rest of this season.
Trojan fans will surely be treated to some entertaining football during the next month, but please excuse me while I look ahead to next year. It’s never too early for that, right?
Although the Ducks will return with the heart of their spread attack — quarterback Darron Thomas and tailback LaMichael James — the Trojans will have another team to be wary of next year.
When conference commissioner Larry Scott announced the breakdown of the Pac-12’s football divisions two weeks ago, USC learned that it will be competing each year for a spot in the conference title game with UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and the two new guys, Colorado and Utah.
USC is familiar with the first three. The Buffaloes shouldn’t put any fear into Trojan hearts either, as they are winless in the Big-12 so far this year.
The team with the best chance of beating USC on a year-in, year-out basis for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game currently plays its football in the humble Mountain West Conference.
Ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings, Utah enters its Saturday showdown with No. 3 TCU undefeated and full of confidence.
Even the national media is beginning to notice: ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Salt Lake City this weekend for a game that doesn’t involve a team from one of the nation’s six power conferences.
This season was supposed to be Boise State’s time to shine. If a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference was finally going to play for the nation’s biggest prize, most assumed it would be the Broncos of the blue turf.
Boise State hasn’t disappointed, rolling to a 7-0 record and a No. 4 ranking. TCU has also played well and could very well beat Utah on the road on Saturday.
It’s the original BCS-busters, however, that seems to have the brightest future. Their first breakthrough came on New Year’s Day of 2005, when the Alex Smith-led Utes completed a perfect season with a 35-7 trouncing of Big East champion Pittsburgh.
With the move to the Pac-12, Utah will no longer hear the whispers of “good team, weak schedule.” An undefeated season in the new conference would put them squarely in the national title discussion. The Utes will also be better equipped to tap into the rich talent hotbed of Southern California.
Rivals.com has been ranking college football recruiting classes since 2002. Before 2009, Utah had never cracked the top 50. In 2010, the Utes brought in only the 32nd best class in the nation.
For the team to have such success — Utah has compiled a 77-19 record since 2003 — without the nation’s best high school players, what can we expect from the Utes when they are able to bring in big-time recruits?
Utah has already proven it can hang with top level teams. The Utes’ 31-17 victory against No. 4 Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl completed their second perfect season in five years.
Utah knows it can stack up in the new conference. The Utes have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games against Pac-10 opponents dating back to 2003. Last season, they beat Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl and hung with eventual Pac-10 champions Oregon on the road at fabled Autzen Stadium, losing by seven when their last drive ended with an interception on the Ducks’ 8-yard line.
The Trojans have to make the most of their remaining five games. They’ll need to be ready for what’s looming on the horizon.
Don’t bother getting out the lanterns. There’s no need to signal if it’s by land or sea. The Utes are coming and they’re playing to win.
“Sellin’ the Sizzle” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.