I can only guess, but things aren’t supposed to grow stale in Tempe, Ariz.
For a college town that never sleeps, that never stops — a West Coast king of nightlife if you will — Saturday night seemed rather familiar, almost clichéd.
USC relinquished a lead in the second half, a routine that’s become near-second nature for USC coach Lane Kiffin’s bunch the last two seasons.
This time nobody blinked. Nobody gave it a second thought. The Trojans were outscored 15-0 in the fourth quarter. They surrendered 22 consecutive points to end the game.
They lost to Arizona State, and by the end, it wasn’t really close.
The Sun Devils were 2.5-point favorites and won by three touchdowns. Fans filed to the exits early. Students rushed to Mill Avenue for post-game drinks. And nobody rushed the field — save for a few Animal House-esque Deltas in the front row.
Nobody attempted to hoist 6-foot-8 quarterback Brock Osweiler in the air. Nobody tossed projectiles onto the placing surface. It was quiet. They almost didn’t need security. For a fan base that hadn’t seen its team beat USC in 11 years, since 1999, it seemed borderline apathetic.
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson was doused in Gatorade in the waning minutes and chants of “A-S-U, A-S-U” rang throughout Sun Devil Stadium, sure, but for the 61,495 fans in attendance, few even winced.
“Teams are always circling us on their schedules regardless of what people say about USC,” senior linebacker Chris Galippo said in the moments following the loss. “If they beat USC, it’s going to make their season.”
Except it won’t. Not anymore. Not in 2011. Under Kiffin, USC has lost six times. Since Mark Sanchez graduated in the spring of 2009, it has lost nine times to six different Pac-12 schools.
This isn’t Trojan exceptionalism by any stretch of the imagination; it’s plain ol’ mediocrity.
The novelty of beating USC has worn off. It no longer automatically cues a highlight reel. It’s irrelevant, almost. And that might be the toughest reality for any fan to face.
For a program that often wears its arrogance on its sleeve, and proudly, the sobering truth that its role in the college football universe is diminishing as fast as that of the Big East might be the toughest pill to swallow.
Beating USC equates to beating Utah, Arizona or California. It’s another win, pure and simple. It doesn’t alter the direction of a program. You could see that on the Arizona State sidelines. You could see they expected this. It was the Sun Devils’ fourth game of the season and they treated it as such. Playing USC is no longer anybody’s Super Bowl.
And yes, it’s quite the culture change.
Historically, USC has unquestionably been the top dog, the one with a bull’s eye on its chest. It has been controversial. It has been bold. It has been polarizing. It now largely reflects indifference.
And that’s unfortunate because, at times, USC can be quite good. Against Utah, its defense held the Utes to just two touchdowns. A week ago, junior quarterback Matt Barkley tossed five touchdowns, a single-game school record, in a 21-point rout of Syracuse.
Even in defeat Saturday, senior tailback Marc Tyler rushed for 149 yards on nearly seven yards per carry against the Sun Devils.
Its most glaring numbers were penalties and turnovers, though.
USC committed 10 penalties, including three personal foul calls, for 87 yards. It turned the ball over four times — two of them coming in the red zone.
Mediocre teams commit penalties. Mediocre teams give the ball away.
USC shouldn’t be mediocre. It’s too talented, too good at too many positions — at quarterback, at wide receiver and on the defensive line. It has recruited too well to simply be average.
But the perception is as such.
Galippo is right — to an extent. Beating USC has made a team’s season — at least before. Just last season, Stanford, then-ranked No. 16, beat USC at home, and in the aftermath its students stormed the field. Mind you, that same Cardinal team finished 11-1 and beat ACC-champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl come January.
Oregon State, a month later, did the same following a win over a three-loss Trojan team.
The Pac-12 has now adjusted to sanctioned USC. It’s become fixated on the team with the spread offense up north, the team in the Silicon Valley with the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
USC no longer inspires that same animosity. The opposition doesn’t get riled up. It’s tame in large part. Even the signs directed toward USC from the Arizona State student section were essentially nonexistent, with the exception of a few references to Reggie Bush, paid players and a postseason ban.
For a program that has reprised the role of Goliath so often during the past decade, its latest shot taken to the forehead might hurt the most. Not because it was toppled in defeat. Not because it proved to be the onset of a dramatic collapse, but because hardly anyone watching flinched.
Tempe, at least for one Saturday night, was oddly silent.
“The 19th Hole” runs Mondays. To comment on this article email Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.