Birds circled the Coliseum after the game, but they might as well have been vultures, swooping in to prey on the dying legacy of the once-mighty Trojans.
This is really it. It’s over.
USC’s claim to the title of college football’s most dominant team officially came crashing down Saturday when Stanford unabashedly dismantled the Trojans, 55-21.
Oregon was just the beginning. Stanford was the confirmation.
The torch has been passed. USC’s reign atop the college football world and the Pac-10 is officially done for.
This statement could have been written after the shellacking in Eugene, Ore. But after Oregon’s subsequent loss and USC’s belief that anything could happen, people inserted USC back into Rose Bowl consideration.
Now, as USC used to gloriously proclaim, it left no doubt. Goodbye Rose Bowl, hello Sun Bowl — if that.
There was no tricky spread offense like the Ducks used to blast the Trojans on Halloween. There was no hostile crowd.
USC knew what was coming and they couldn’t do anything about it. All the Trojans could do was throw their hands in the air and concede, just like the rest of the conference used to do for them.
“They ran the plays we thought they were gonna run,” senior safety Taylor Mays said. “They ran power lead. It wasn’t complicated or intricate like Oregon’s offense at all.”
Stanford running back Toby Gerhart plowed through USC’s defense again and again, finishing with 181 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns.
Gerhart, who USC coach Pete Carroll compared to Jerome “the Bus” Bettis earlier in the week, looked the part. And the entire USC defense went along for the ride.
“They blocked us — time, after time, after time, after time,” Carroll said.
USC appeared one step behind on nearly every play.
The Trojans were not able to dig themselves out a bad start like we’ve seen so many times in the past when they’ve fallen behind at home.
They were not able shore up the defense and stop the barrage either — Stanford just kept coming at them, not stopping until it put up 55 points, the most USC has ever given up.
Stanford recognized this was not the same USC team of old.
“Everything wasn’t there,” Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It didn’t seem like they were playing as hard as they usually do.”
This USC team just didn’t have the same fight.
“In years past, you saw them destroy people,” Sherman said. “It didn’t matter what the score was, they were going to put 100 on everybody.”
In case you didn’t check your calendar, the game was played in November, a month in which Carroll had never lost.
Winning in November meant USC was always getting better every week.
Winning in November meant USC continued to peak while the rest of the nation was leveling off.
But to lose in such a lopsided way at home, in Carroll’s month and on Homecoming signifies the end of an era.
The end of that streak is a symbol for the end of USC’s hegemony.
“The whole thing about November, I’ve never even known why that existed,” Carroll said. “But as a competitor, I freakin’ loved it. I loved the fact that we finished better than other teams.”
Carroll hates to see the streak end because it now puts USC in the “other teams” category. The man who is penning a book called Win Forever just found out that dominance has its limits.
Trojan fans also expected Carroll to be able to rebuild forever — to keep dominating even when they had to replace NFL-caliber players, year in and year out.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley was spectacular at times this season but Saturday he showed he is not ready to be hold this team together yet.
The boundless expectations placed on the 19-year old were unfair and we all saw why first hand. Barkley threw three bad interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and also fumbled on USC’s first drive.
“I’m not used to this. It doesn’t feel right,” Barkley said after the game.
The inexperienced linebacker unit has held tough this season, but they couldn’t — and shouldn’t have been — expected to play like the four NFL players who played those positions last season.
Eventually, a team, no matter how great, finds itself on the other side. Sooner or later, the score is evened and the pendulum swings.
Because no one stays on top forever.