When the 2008 college football season began, the USC Trojans found themselves among the top five teams in the nation in just about every preseason poll.
Projected to be one of the best defensive teams in recent memory, the Trojans were set for another national title run under head coach Pete Carroll.
Although defense was their perceived strength, the offense looked to be explosive as well, featuring talents such as quarterback Mark Sanchez and Joe McKnight at running back.
Even with multiple injuries to McKnight, who was playing well before missing time, USC has lived up to their billing on offense, averaging 38.4 points and 451 total yards of offense per game.
The defense has performed even better, surrendering only 8.3 points and 222.5 yards per contest, ranking second in the nation in total defense.
With numbers like that, you would expect USC to be right in the thick of the national championship picture.
Well, they are—sort of.
Despite their No. 5 ranking in the BCS standings, their situation is muddled at this point.
USC does not control their own destiny.
The Oregon State Beavers do.
When looking at Oregon State, the average fan probably does not expect much and is most likely unaware of the Beavers' current state.
The No. 17 Beavers, led by head coach Mike Riley, boast a record of 8-3 (7-1, Pac-10) and are tied with USC for first place in the Pac-10 conference.
However, with sloppy losses to Stanford and Penn State to start the season, it seems like Oregon State should be struggling to become bowl-eligible, let alone contending for a conference title.
Yet, the Beavers were able to right the ship when the then-No. 1 Trojans cruised into Corvallis, Ore. after beating Ohio State handily the week before.
That night, USC’s national championship hopes would be thwarted in one of the biggest surprises of the season.
Oregon State was able to catch the Trojans off guard, racing out to a 21-0 halftime lead.
Not surprisingly, USC made a late comeback, but the Beaver defense held on, preserving a 27-21 victory over the No. 1 team in the country.
Just like that, the Trojans had dug themselves into a hole in both the Pac-10 and national championship races.
As a result of their shocking win, the Beavers would now own a tiebreaker over USC should both teams end up tied in the final Pac-10 standings.
Despite the disappointment of their unexpected loss, USC fought on, annihilating just about every opponent that got in their way.
Unfortunately for Carroll’s football team, the Beavers refused to lose in conference play, rattling off six straight victories over Pac-10 opponents.
And this weekend, Oregon State has a chance to clinch both the Pac-10 conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl to face Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions.
But they will have to do it against their intrastate rival, the No. 23 Oregon Ducks, in this season’s version of the “Civil War.”
Although it will be a tough battle, the victory will be that much sweeter for Riley and Oregon State if it’s over the hated Ducks.
While the Beavers have the luxury of being in the Pac-10 driver's seat, the Trojans’ national championship hopes hang in the balance.
The only thing that USC can do now is take care of business against Notre Dame and UCLA and root for the Ducks on Saturday.
Without an outright Pac-10 championship, USC’s slim chances of going to the BCS Championship Game in Miami become almost obsolete.
Although it is very likely that the Trojans will at least receive an at-large bid to a BCS bowl if Oregon State beats Oregon Saturday, things don’t look too good for USC.
Once again, an immensely talented Trojan team will miss out on the opportunity to play for another national championship because of an unexpected hiccup.
If I’m not mistaken, Southern Cal football is beginning to resemble the Buffalo Bills and the Atlanta Braves of the ‘90s.
Like the Bills and the Braves, the Trojans’ extremely talented teams have recently found a way to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly.
Whether it was Reggie Bush’s lateral fumble against Texas in the 2005 Rose Bowl or the shocking upsets by UCLA in 2006, Stanford in 2007, and Oregon State this season, USC has been prone to costly mistakes as of late.
If the Trojans want to add to their championship total, they need to play at a high level consistently, a task that they are very capable of executing.
Undoubtedly, USC will reach their seventh consecutive BCS bowl, a remarkable feat for any school in college football, especially in today's game.
However, national championships are expected of the football team at Southern Cal and they will not be satisfied until the Trojans hoist the crystal football once again.