The reactions after the USC Trojans 21-14 loss over the Stanford Cardinal ranged from measured to extreme, like with basically any college football upset. But here’s the thing with the word “upset”, it varies into various shades of upsets. Just look at what we saw yesterday. Pittsburgh beating Virginia Tech 35-17 is a “shocking” upset and an absolutely embarrassing one for VT.
When looking at USC’s loss to Stanford, it’s not even close to the word “shocking”. While it is true the loss signifies the loss for a national contender against a team regarded as good-not-great, the loss is more of a reflection of Stanford than USC.
September 15, 2012; Stanford, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) is sacked by Stanford Cardinal linebacker Trent Murphy (93, left) during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defeated the Trojans 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
Center and key leader Khaled Holmes was out, and both star running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal went down during the game. That made the Trojans one-dimensional at points, and it showed against an offensive line that looked shaky against a tough Stanford defense.
The injuries are important, because it keeps things in perspective. USC was facing a team with one of the most impressive front sevens in the country without their most important offensive linemen and a rushing game that was ineffective due to injury and poor blocking.
Even with the excuses on the table, the Stanford Cardinal simply outplayed USC. It’s true, USC didn’t look like a national contender yesterday. They looked out of sync on offense, and that’s simply inexcusable.
But here’s the thing, people treating Stanford’s win like it was a shocking upset and a huge blow to USC are looking at it the wrong way. While they may be giving Stanford enough credit for their winning performance, the Cardinal were really underrated coming into the game. On a national scale, people assume that Stanford was only good because of Andrew Luck. They fail to realize that Stanford has a great running game, arguably the best offensive line in the conference even without David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, and one of college football’s brightest stars in Stepfan Taylor.
Beyond that, their defense is top notch, and it showed yesterday. Heck, I underrated Stanford going into the game, but their 21-14 win over USC made me realize that this team has always been one of the top 20 teams in the country. It’s just that not enough credit was given to Stanford’s ability to replenish the talent that left for the NFL, as well as David Shaw’s coaching ability.
Stanford is now 9th in the AP poll, with USC dropping all the way to 13th (really? below Notre Dame?), and I think Stanford ends up staying in the top 15 the rest of the way with their hard-nosed defense, elite running game, and top offensive line.
I’ve praised Stanford enough, so now it’s time to take a look at what USC needs to do. Really, the blueprint for an appearance in the title game for USC was one loss and beat Oregon, lose to Oregon in the regular season but go undefeated the rest of the way, or go undefeated. The new blueprint now is simply win out and beat Oregon, because USC can’t afford a mistake if they want to go to the title game. That has to be the end goal for this team, especially with all the talent they have.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to face USC. I would rather play against Stanford than face the athletic wideouts that the Trojans have, their two-headed running attack, and the golden arm of Matt Barkley. Stanford’s good, but USC is still better. I’m going to agree with John Canzano here, who wisely wrote that it is all about match-ups in college football.
So instead of overreacting, I hope that you have a more measured scope of USC’s loss to Stanford. The Cardinal deserve a lot of credit for being underrated and proving that, while people do need to realize that the injuries USC suffered help Stanford expose them and win the key match-ups that they needed to- the match-ups in the trenches.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.