Things looked pretty bleak for the Pac-10 Thursday night when one of its marqee teams, Oregon, went without a first down the entire first half, and lost to Boise State 19-8.
Then, USC’s season almost took a turn for the worse this morning, as its toughest opponent, No. 6 Ohio State, barely got by Navy, 31-27, in a game they should have won handily.
When the Trojans finally took the field, they didn’t look so hot either.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley had to throw the ball away several times as Trojan fumbles gave the San Jose State Spartans a 3-0 first quarter lead.
Then Barkley, Damian Williams, Joe McKnight, and the rest of the Trojan offense came to life in the second quarter, rolling off 28 consecutive points.
And they didn’t stop there.
They rolled off another 28 points in the second half to rack up a 56-3 win.
Despite the two big guns on the Trojan’s schedule, Oregon and Ohio State, turning in sub-par performances, the rest of USC’s opponents quickly picked up the slack.
Notre Dame shutout Nevada 35-0. Meanwhile, Cal showed that it was ready to challenge USC for the Pac-10 title with a 52-13 lambasting of Maryland, a team that upset the Bears last year.
Crosstown rival UCLA thumped San Diego State 33-14 at the Rose Bowl. Oregon State crushed Portland State 34-7. Stanford cruised to a 39-13 win over hapless Washington State, the weakest team in the Pac-10. Arizona beat Central Michigan 19-6, while Arizona State had its way with Idaho State, 50-3.
Altogether, three Pac-10 teams scored 50 points or more in their openers, while three more teams score 33 or more.
So, even though Oregon laid an egg coming out of the box, the Pac-10 wound up having a pretty impressive day.
Perhaps the most impressive performance was in a losing effort, as the Washington Huskies, winless in 2008, and a huge underdog to No. 11 LSU, stuck right with the Tigers until the final quarter.
The Huskies, now led by two of Pete Carroll’s former assistants, head coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt, gave LSU a real scare before bowing out 31-23.
While it looked again like the Pac-10 would land on the bottom rung of the BCS conferences, they actually ended right up there with the SEC and the Big 12.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten and the ACC were the big losers.
Besides Ohio State, the Big Ten had two other teams barely winning.
Minnesota struggled against Syracuse and needed an overtime field goal to win, 23-20. Iowa needed two consecutive blocked field goals to beat Northern Iowa 17-16
One of the conferences top powers this year, Illinois, was completely embarrassed by Missouri, 37-9.
In the ACC, not only was Maryland crushed by the Cal Bears, but also No. 7 Virginia Tech lost to Alabama 34-24.
Virginia was upset by William and Mary 26-14, and Wake Forest lost to Baylor, 24-21.
The Big 12 won a big one and lost a big one.
Oklahoma State soundly beat the Georgia Bulldogs, 24-10; however, Oklahoma lost their game with BYU 14-13, and they lost Sam Bradford for a few weeks with a sprained shoulder.
What does all this mean for USC?
First of all, USC will move up to No. 3, replacing Oklahoma.
Virginia Tech will drop out of the top ten, and Cal should leap frog LSU in the polls.
Notre Dame most likely will move up from No. 23 into the top 20.
Even though Oregon will drop from its No. 16 spot, Arizona State, Oregon State, and UCLA remain credible candidates to crack the top 25 at some point, and bolster USC’s strength of schedule.
Just as important as strength of schedule is the health of the team.
Trojans fans will be glad to know that the only injury Saturday was running back Curtis McNeal’s bruised shoulder.
The bright spot for the Trojans is the news that center Kris O’Dowd and defensive lineman Averell Spicer will return next week for the Ohio State game.
That’s not good news for Ohio State.