By REED NELSON
Just 48 hours ago, as ESPN looped footage of Matt Barkley throwing footballs through pin-holes, hitting guys like Marqise Lee and Robert Woods in stride, his passes placed into sidewalk cracks (forget windows), Barkley and his band of perfectly sculpted, robotically well-spoken, physically daunting Trojans looked unbeatable.
And, at the time, it made sense. How could anyone stop them? Oregon’s offense might do the trick, but the momentum to be gained by the Trojans in between now and November was a prickly postulation.
Stanford certainly had no chance. They lost their Barkley Kryptonite, Andrew Luck, and with him his sparkling 3-0 record against the Golden Boy with the Golden Arm from the Golden Lands of Souther California. Now it was the Golden Boy’s chance to beat the Cardinal. It just had to be. Stanford wasn’t the same Stanford. They beat San Jose State by just a field goal! And hey, maybe David Shaw isn’t the great coach that not nearly enough people give him credit for being (thus reaffirming their lack of credit given)?
And even if that was the case, the game wasn’t about Stanford. It was about USC, Lane Kiffin, Matt Barkley and vengeance. Barkley came back to school for his senior season for three reasons: To win the Heisman, to play for a National Championship and to beat the shit out of a Luck-less Stanford. He might never have said the third reason out loud, but it might have been number one. He wanted to beat Stanford so bad; he needed to beat Stanford so bad.
And, believe it or not, Oregon did too.
Blaspheme! Outrageous! Are you demented?! How on Puddle’s Green Earth could you have been rooting for a favorable Trojan outcome?! Easy. Win or lose, the Ducks were going to play USC, the same USC that played this week, in L.A., without John Boyett or Carson York. This Saturday wasn’t going to change that date. The only thing that could have changed was USC’s ranking (or ours, but that isn’t the point of this). And if Oregon had to play USC I wanted the #2 iteration. Big trees fall hard, right?
It wasn’t meant to be, however, and by now you know the story. At 8:22 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, Matt Barkley’s scuffed up face mask hit the turf for the last time in a violent corkscrew of a hit. The sack, Stanford’s third straight, left USC 4th-and-the-Silk-Road (4th-and-40-something, in all truthiness), and Barkley couldn’t Google Maps his way out of trouble.
Sure, it’s nice to know that USC’s roster is comprised of real people, that they are certainly human. And watching Matt Barkley’s shell-shocked post game press conference — where he wore a similar expression to the one Fredo Corleone wore at Mama Corleone’s funeral1 —was about as satisfying of an off-field moment that any of us could have hoped for this week (Mike Franscesca’s decision to ignore all traditional characteristics of professional behavior was its only competition). But now the bottom line has changed.
That Nov. 3 game was supposed to establish the Pac-12 as the real Belle of the BCS Ball, the nation’s very own Ashley Leigh Cook in “She’s All That”, as a game that game that few suspected to be bigger — and more covered — than ‘Bama-LSU, but undoubtedly would have been2.
And it would settle everything… Until the Pac-12 Championship Game! After all the hoopla, even if Oregon had surrendered to whatever vengeful, vindictive deity that has long been plaguing collegiate kickers, for the second straight season, and they had lost to SC, with a win over Stanford at home Oregon could still force a rematch. Which would be AWESOME. And, before Saturday, if USC had saved their first loss until Nov. 3, Oregon would have a shot at a rematch as well, a win in which would have undoubtedly been BCS Championship-berth worthy. Now? The only way we get that rematch is if USC beats Oregon, Oregon beats Stanford and USC beats UCLA. If Oregon beats USC, UCLA could lose to USC and still back door their way into the Pac-12 game for the second straight year3.
But it’s USC! They have leprosy there, and Oregon could still win the Pac-12 by beating a #13 USC team, right? Of course they can, but that #13 team hasn’t changed from the #2 team on a personnel level. The ranking might be just a status symbol, a paper distinction, but it’s an incredibly important one and one that the BCS polls take into account. I’d rather watch the Ducks take on that same USC team with the better ranking, but that might just be me.
And by losing to Stanford in a game that looked more like the World War I, trench-warfare-inspired, Big Ten ball of yesteryear, there is little for Oregon to gain, strategically, from either side. Well, maybe a bit to be gained from Stanford’s defense, but that lesson will be taught on the offensive side of the ball, where Chip Kelly & Co. should be able to diagnose a few of the packages Stanford uses to shut down a wide-open passing attack.
For the Ducks to try to emulate Stanford’s defensive packages themselves in an attempt to stop USC, however, would be pointless. There is nothing to be gained from a system if you don’t have the personnel to emulate it. With the thrashing Oregon’s defensive backfield has taken this year, relying on single coverage against Lee and Woods will yield the same awful results as last year.
A silver lining does still exist, however thinly veiled, and that lining has to do with the now undefeated Cardinal breaching the walls of the Top 10. If the Cardinal can stay unbeaten until Nov. 17, then Oregon gets a dream matchup, just not the dream they were expecting. But that is a giant “if.”
Oregon might be in the driver’s seat, but that bastard drivers ed teacher still has a break on the passenger side. A USC win would have been a license to drive.
- “We knew it was you Matt. You broke our hearts… You broke our hearts!”Jump
- No questions asked. It’s within the Laws of Pop Culture, and now that college football (and everything else, save hockey. I think the NHL is having a cookout? Blockout? Something like that. It’s supposed to be for the fans I think.) is covered with a paparazzi-like fervor, the story-lines leading up to USC-Oregon would have far outweighed ‘Bama-LSU. They’re old news, yesterday’s cover story. They’re like the Prom Queen candidate that has won every Homecoming distinction since freshman year, dates the quarterback until her senior year, then inexplicably breaks up with him to “explore more before college starts.” Sure, it sounds like they’re the edgy ones, but what everyone wants to see is the power struggle for the new #1. The SEC hasn’t dumped Freddie Prinz Jr. yet, but the country would have been ready for Ashley Leigh Cook by Nov. 3. We’re the quirky Pac-12, the artists, Sunshine from “Remember the Titans”; we’re liberal, long-haired hippies who shouldn’t be trumping the SEC in anything, especially not national attention. But if we (the Pac-12) are good (we are), that makes us soooooo much cooler. But alas, that was a waste of a parable. Jump
- UCLA and Oregon don’t have a scheduled meeting this season. Lucky Bruins. Jump
Related Content: Our George Artistas throws on some rose colored glasses, lays off the dogmatic rhetoric and looks at the cleaner hypothetical following the Trojans Saturday night collapse. >> Why Oregon should be as happy as Stanford.