Over the past seven years, USC has dominated the Pac-10 like no other team has. The closest competitors have gotten to the title is sharing it with the Trojans. On Halloween night, the Oregon Ducks handed USC their worst loss in the Pete Carroll era with a dominating 47-20 win.
The Ducks put up a jaw dropping 613 yards on the vaunted Trojan defense, and QB Jeremiah Masoli had gaudy numbers, both on the ground (164 yards) and through the air (222). The RB LaMichael James didn’t fare too badly either, with 183 yards in 24 carries.
After suffering an embarrassing defeat and ugly postgame scene in Boise, the Ducks have been marching towards their first Pac-10 title since 2001. For long-time Pac-10 fans, this year would be especially important, considering the last time the Ducks were Pac-10 champions, the BCS system sent them to the Fiesta Bowl instead of the traditional Rose Bowl.
Averaging 39.5 points per game following the poor offense performance in Boise, Oregon has been on a roll and is looking like the offensive machine that Dennis Dixon lead in 2007. That team under Dixon averaged 43.5 points per game. They appeared to be headed to the National Title game, but it was not meant to be, as Dixon was injured and the Ducks lost three in a row.
With the early season loss to Boise St. it will be hard for Oregon to jump into the national title picture (currently eighth in BCS), but as they showed Halloween night, they are ready to take the next step, which is taking the Pac-10 title away from USC.
For the Trojans, it was clear it was going to be a rebuilding year this year. It was a long offseason, as USC lost both their offensive and defensive coordinators, in addition to returning only three starters on defense. The offense, while returning nine starters, lost their starting QB and was forced to go with true freshman Matt Barkley as his replacement.
Then again, this is USC, where the talent oozes from the depth chart, but losing that kind of leadership on both sides of the ball makes the rebuilding process much harder. Even then, as the season began, the Trojans looked like they should roll to another Pac-10 title, handling Ohio State in a low-scoring game before the shocking upset to Washington.
Although if you have been following USC for the last few years, they seem to drop at least one game they had no business losing to. Two years ago, it was Stanford, and this year it was Washington. In both cases, the teams failed to turn the upset into a winning season.
So in a way, that loss in Seattle was not all that surprising, but the loss to the Ducks has people taking a second look at the team from Eugene.
This raises the question, did the Ducks just mark their territory in the Pac-10 elite, or is this just a case of USC having a down year? The first step being for Oregon to hang on this year and win the Pac-10 title outright, which they have positioned themselves well for an hold their fate in their own hands with an undefeated record in the Pac-10.
It wasn’t just the way the Ducks defeated the Trojans; they smacked them in the face and ran all over them. Oregon was making a clear statement, that at least for this year, they are ready to be the kings of the Pac-10.
Oregon has been recruiting well as of late to position them to maintain their current run, with three top 30 classes in a row, including one top 10 in 2007. Add the improving talent level with a unique offense and Oregon seems poised to continue its run in the upper half of Pac-10. The transition from head coach Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly has gone smoothly, as the defense is playing well and the offense has not missed a beat.
While the USC talent level is going to be superior to pretty much everyone they play, which is going consistently make them a favorite to win the league, it is going to continue to face threats from teams like Oregon for the top seed. For now, the Ducks have firmly established themselves as the top team in the Northwest as of late.
I’m not sure over time that any one team will able to take the crown away from USC, for more than a year at a time. Don't count Oregon out though, as they appear like they will be one of the teams in the mix every year for a while to come.
The most likely scenario is a different team rising up on any given year to challenge the kings of the Pac-10, as long as Pete Carroll is roaming the sidelines in L.A.