2007: 10 Games That Shaped the Most Exciting Pac-10 Race Ever

WarderroCorrespondent IJuly 30, 2009

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the USC Trojans points during the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the 95th Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi on January 1, 2009 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

To any college football fan who has been awake for the past seven years, saying that USC has been the best team in the Pac-10 is about as big an understatement as suggesting that the BCS system is imperfect.

Indeed, since 2002, even with all the talk of growing parity across the college football landscape and the wacky regular season finishes, Trojan dominance of the Pac-10 (ending in a trip to the Rose Bowl or some BCS bowl) has been a remarkable constant.

However, the turbulent 2007 season—which pretty much shattered the notion of certainty about anything in college football—nearly saw the overthrow the Pac-10's kings.

At various points in the season, four different teams seemed poised to oust the Trojan despots from the conference throne, and even in the final regular season game, a changing of the guards remained a possibility.

But it was not to be.

Here is a look back at how the unthinkable nearly happened, how order was eventually restored, and the 10 games that defined this remarkable race.

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Sept. 29: (6) California 31, (12) Oregon 24

What a way to start things off!

During such an exciting and controversial season, this thriller in Autzen Stadium provided both. In the closing seconds, Cal's Marcus Ezeff forced Oregon's Cameron Colvin to fumble the ball into the endzone, sealing the game after a lengthy review.

Courtesy of Oklahoma's stunning loss to Colorado and Florida's home defeat at the hands of Auburn, the Golden Bears moved into the top three in the next poll.

Rumblings about Cal becoming USC's best conference challenger start.

Oct. 6: Stanford 24, (2) USC 23

Those rumblings about USC's dwindling supremacy just got a whole lot louder after this shocker.

Stanford came into the Los Angeles Coliseum as 40-point underdogs, forced to start a quarterback who had only thrown three career passes.

Upon leaving, the Cardinal turned the college football world on its head.

Tavita Pritchard's touchdown pass to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds left to play won the game for the Cardinal, ending the Trojans' 35-game home winning streak (which included 24 conference games without a loss).

Following the defeat, Cal rose to No. 2 in the rankings.

Oct. 13: Oregon State 31, (2) California 28

After No. 1 LSU's triple-overtime loss to Kentucky, a home win over a mediocre Oregon State squad was all that stood between Cal and a spot atop the polls.

But the Bears fell behind early, and quarterback Kevin Riley stumbled late to kill what would have been a remarkable rally, as the Beavers pulled off a stunner at Memorial Stadium.

The loss sent Cal into a tailspin, as the Bears would lose the five of six games to end the season.

A huge sigh of relief emanates from southern California.

Oct. 27: (7) Arizona State 31, (20) California 20

A new surprise contender for the Pac-10 title emerged following the ASU's victory over the reeling Bears in Tempe.

Led by junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter, Dennis Erikson's Sun Devils overcame an early 20-7 deficit and shut out Cal in the second half to win in convincing fashion.

The Bears fell out of the Top 25 and suffered a third consecutive conference loss, while the Sun Devils moved to a 4-0 conference record, and into the thick of the BCS race.

Oct. 27: (5) Oregon 24, (9) USC 17

On the day of ASU's win, another giant groan was heard from southern California, along with 127.2-decibel quacks of happiness from the northwest. 

Oregon won at home behind Jonathan Stewart's rushing and a defense that picked off Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez (in for the injured John David Booty) twice, including an interception in the closing seconds to kill a USC comeback.

Simultaneously, talk of the Ducks, unbeaten since the Cal loss, rising to the status of national title contender restarted, along with murmurs of an end to USC's reign atop the Pac-10.

Nov. 3: (4) Oregon 35, (6) Arizona State 23

Serious national title game and Heisman Trophy chatter aligned in this contest, as Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon threw for four touchdowns in Oregon's victory.

A 35-16 deficit was too much for Arizona State to overcome, as Rudy Carpenter was sacked nine times during the contest.

The Sun Devils suffered their first Pac-10 loss, while fifth-ranked Oregon assumed control in this continuing game of conference musical chairs.

Nov. 14: Arizona 24, (2) Oregon 14

Against the Wildcats, No. 2 Oregon's hopes for a National Title and a Heisman winner went the way of Dennis Dixon's ACL.

On a 2nd-and-7 play in the second quarter, Dixon fell to the ground on a running play and tore it while twisting his knee. He would would not play another down in 2007.

Meanwhile, by halftime Oregon had lost another quarterback (back-up Brady Leaf) and trailed 31-14, a deficit from which they would not recover.

Cue another sigh of relief from Trojan nation.

Nov. 22: (12) USC 44, (6) Arizona State 24

Despite losing to the Ducks, No. 6 Arizona State controlled its own destiny after Oregon faltered against the Wildcats, and had a chance to inch closer to a BCS birth by winning this prime-time Thanksgiving Day match-up.

Standing in the Sun Devils' way: John David Booty and defensive end Lawrence Jackson.

USC's quarterback picked apart the ASU secondary for 375 yards and four touchdowns through the air (and one on the ground), while Jackson lived in the Sun Devil backfield all game long—recording four sacks and five and a half tackles for a loss.

Seemingly finished less than a month ago, the Trojans now had themselves a first place conference tie (and owned the tie-breaker against the Sun Devils).

Following another string of upsets, USC was back in the Top 10 by the end of the weekend.

Nov. 24: UCLA 16, (9) Oregon 0

The new contender for the Pac-10 crown is...6-5 UCLA?

Sounds crazy, but it's true—like many of the events in 2007-2008 college football season. 

Despite suffering ugly losses (including a 20-6 home defeat to a dreadful Notre Dame team) and losing their two top quarterbacks, the Bruins had managed to stay in contention with only three conference losses.

UCLA began the game with their fourth different signal caller of the season, former wide receiver Osaar Rasshan behind center.

But the team's defense was the story of the game, along with the collective ineptitude of Oregon's three replacements for Dennis Dixon.

Dec. 1: (9) USC 24, UCLA 7

Fresh off of shutting out Oregon, the Bruins rolled into Los Angelese Coliseum with a chance to dash USC's postseason hopes for the second straight year. 

Yet this game was not just about playing the role of spoiler. An upset of the Trojans, coupled with a Sun Devil loss against Arizona, would actually earn UCLA the conference crown.

Unfortunately, the contest was not a stage for one last shocker, but rather a display of all-out USC dominance.

The Trojans' 24 points were more than enough, as the Bruins had more turnovers (four) than third-down conversions (none), managed just 12 yards on the ground, and were shut out in the second half.

Despite Arizona State's win over the Wildcats, USC earned yet another conference crown (the school's streak sits at six), and would make another return trip to Pasadena.

So there you have it, folks.

The Ducks, Bears, Sun Devils, and Bruins all had their chances at ending the Trojans' reign atop the conference.

Unfortunately, Dennis Dixon's season and Karl Dorell's tenure at UCLA were the only things that ended that season.

Amid the hysteria that dominated college football in 2007, order—for better or for worse—was restored, as the Trojans remained the only Pac-10 team in four years to earn a BCS birth.

In a season full of twists and turns, this thrilling Pac-10 race was no exception, even if the wild road had a familiar destination.

I hope you all have enjoyed my piece; you should know how painful this was to write for me as a Cal fan.

Feel free to comment on the most exciting races from your favorite conferences (I know the Big 12 was wild in '08), or maybe if you think 2009 could mark the end of the Trojan dynasty.

Have at it!

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