January 3, 2013 |

USC’s Collapse Mars Pac-12’s Success Story

In the last few football seasons Oregon and Stanford have been the dominant teams in the Pac-12 Conference.

There was no reason to think that would change this season, but somehow a USC team with an inexperienced defense was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

I didn’t understand why, and the Trojans finished the season as one of the few teams ever to start at No. 1 and conclude its schedule unranked.

Oregon won the Rose Bowl Game last season and Stanford won it this season with a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin on Tuesday. Oregon remained prominent by qualifying for the Fiesta Bowl.

The 2012 season was a memorable one for UCLA, which took major strides under the guidance of Jim Mora Jr. But the Bruins faltered at the finish, losing twice to Stanford and then to Baylor in a one-sided Holiday Bowl.

The Bruins were, as I wrote during the season, dangerous but not elite. Give them credit for rising up in certain games, like their dominant win over USC. But don’t mistake them as a team that could be compared favorably with a Notre Dame or an Alabama.

It didn’t help USC’s faltering state when quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury and had to miss key games near the finish of the Trojans’ disappointing season. But Barkley’s absence was just one of Coach Lane Kiffin’s problems

I don’t think the pollsters will make the mistake again next season of ranking the Trojans near the top. In fact, they probably don’t belong in the top ten.

For one of the few times in the last decade UCLA actually has brighter prospects than USC for the next season. Mora came into the coaching job with a no-nonsense attitude that led to a vastly improved defense. Then he installed Brett Hundley as the starting quarterback and showed plenty of confidence in running back Jonathan Franklin.

UCLA wasn’t a pushover anymore and its nine-victory success may only be the beginning of better days.

Meanwhile, Stanford and Oregon remain the class of the conference. Oregon has a program rolling along and I expect the Ducks to remain powerful even if Coach Chip Kelly goes to the NFL, as expected. Stanford won the Rose Bowl game in the season after quarterback Andrew Luck took his brillance to the NFL. David Shaw is the coach now and the Cardinal didn’t miss a beat when Coach Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL.

So, let’s say farewell to another interesting college football season. The Pac-12 representatives have beaten good Wisconsin teams the last two years. Overall, the conference is solid. But it’s not USC’s conference anymore.

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