When Washington beat Oregon Saturday, it dealt another blow to USC's diminishing chances of reaching the Rose Bowl.
"We can't worry about that," USC Coach Larry Smith said. "We had our chance (to beat Washington) and didn't do it, so they've got their season and we've got ours. We'll just go about our way."
It might not be so bad.
Halfway through an unpredictable season, USC finds itself in a unique position: Unless Washington falters twice in its last five games, the Trojans won't make a fourth consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl, but they could still spend New Year's Day playing for the national championship.
They are 5-1 and, a 31-0 loss to Washington notwithstanding, figure to be favored in their remaining six games, including their season finale against Notre Dame.
And wouldn't, say, the Citrus Bowl love to match a once-beaten USC team--featuring Todd Marinovich, perhaps the nation's best known quarterback--against an unbeaten Virginia team?
"We've looked at that," said Chuck Rohe, executive director of the Citrus Bowl. "There are some really good possibilities out there, and that's certainly one of them."
Or wouldn't, say, the Orange Bowl like to match a once-beaten USC team against an unbeaten Nebraska team?
"We're very cognizant of that situation (in the Pacific 10 Conference), and any time you think of (landing) Southern Cal, it's exciting," said Steven Hatchell, executive director of the Orange Bowl. "We haven't sent anybody to any of their games, but we sure have talked about them."
How about USC against an unbeaten Southeastern Conference opponent, Auburn or Tennessee, in the Sugar Bowl? Two years ago, the Trojans were set to play in the Sugar Bowl before they beat UCLA to land a Rose Bowl bid.
"We are definitely interested in a Pac-10 team," said Troy Mathieu, assistant executive director of the Sugar Bowl. "We have looked at USC and talked about them and they are high on our list."
Washington set a precedent for such a chain of events in 1984, when the Huskies' bid for a perfect season and a Rose Bowl bid were ended by a 16-7 loss to USC. They recovered to beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, winding up 11-1 and finishing second to Brigham Young in the final polls.
Is USC that good?
"They're as good as any team I've seen (this season)," said Dick Vermeil, former coach of UCLA and the Philadelphia Eagles and a commentator for ABC-TV.
"Based on what I saw in study of their game tapes from Washington State and based on what I saw Saturday (in a 37-22 victory over Stanford), there aren't many teams in the country that are better. I don't know who the best team is, but they've got to be in the top 10."
Marinovich ranks second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency after throwing for a career-high 338 yards against Stanford. Gary Wellman, who caught seven passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinal, ranks second in the conference in receiving yardage, and the Trojans' ground game has produced 263.7 yards a game in the last three weeks.
"They can score from anywhere on the field, and maybe select the guy they want to do it with," Vermeil said. "It's not any one guy. (Wellman) was so explosive the other day, but the impressive thing is, when they get a guy open for a big play, Marinovich gets (the ball) there.
"Their offensive line is so impressive. I think it's improving. I know (tackle Pat) Harlow had a slow start, but now he's coming on strong. They lost (tight end Frank) Griffin, but I thought Yonnie Jackson played well the other day (as a blocker)--and so did (Brad) Banta.
"Defensively, they're vulnerable, like all college teams, to a well-executed passing game, but eventually you've got to find another way to beat them, which includes a running game. Stanford couldn't run the ball, which is a credit to USC's defense."
USC ranks fifth in the nation against the run after giving up only 103 yards on the ground in its last three games. Stanford ran for four yards in 19 attempts against USC.
It might not be enough to get USC to Pasadena, but there are worse places to spend the holidays than New Orleans or Florida.