A spot in the BCS championship game was No. 2 USC's to lose heading into Saturday's matchup against Stanford. All it had to do was keep winning, and there was no way it could be left out.
A road win against No. 21 Stanford would have been a challenge, but it should have been doable. The Cardinal were without Andrew Luck, as well as several key components of the vaunted offensive line that allowed him to be so successful at Stanford. The Trojans, meanwhile, were coming to town with one of the most prolific offenses—and quarterbacks—in the NCAA.
But they blew it. The Trojans were the victims of a 21-14 upset loss in Palo Alto, and—even though it's hard to predict how the rest of this season is going to shake out—it's safe to say that USC is going to need a lot of luck at this point in order to get to the BCS championship.
Some years, the top two teams don't need to be perfect in order to reach the promised land. Last year was one of those years. This year, however, does not look like one of those years.
Of the top five teams in the nation, USC is now the only one with a loss. And not only is the rest of the top five undefeated, but all of these teams have also been decimating their opponents NCAA Football 13-style.
On Saturday, the other four teams in the top five—Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Florida State—beat their opponents by a combined score of 230-28. No team scored fewer than 52 points, and no team allowed more than 14. There were two shutouts.
Prior to this week, USC was dominating like that, too. And then Lane Kiffin's troops ran into a team that has had its number four years running, and there was nothing they could do. While the rest of the college football elite continued to dominate, USC proved to be fallible. And fallible just isn't good enough.
After throwing 10 touchdown passes in the first two weeks of the season, Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley didn't throw a single one against Stanford, instead leaving the scoring duties to running back Silas Redd. USC was held scoreless after halftime, blowing a 14-7 lead.
The Trojans defense couldn't stop two critical second-half touchdown drives courtesy of Josh Nunes, someone who is clearly proving to be Luck's very capable successor.
Now, in order to make it to Miami, USC will have to rely on the other top teams to lose—and given the way those teams have been dominating, that doesn't seem to be very likely. It also doesn't seem likely that if USC was this vulnerable against a team like Stanford, it is going to be any less vulnerable against an Arizona, or an Oregon, or a Notre Dame.
When you're the No. 2 team in the nation—when you're competing for the title of national champion—you need to be able to beat the good teams. You need to be able to do it on the road, at home, any way, any place.
A week ago, it looked like USC was one of the very best—maybe even the top team in the country. Now, it just looks like any other Top-25 team that could be competing for a spot in a mediocre bowl game a few months from now.