Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh made national headlines last summer when he proclaimed that USC might be the greatest team in college football history.
This week, after USC barely squeaked past Washington, Harbaugh held firm in his hyperbolic belief.
On Saturday at the Coliseum, USC was not even the best team on the field.
In one of the greatest upsets in college football history, Harbaugh's previously struggling Stanford team defeated the second-ranked Trojans, 24-23, ending USC's 35-game home winning streak and possibly its bid for a national title.
"To give it up on a night like this when you play so miserably . . . it's a crusher to have to give it up," USC Coach Pete Carroll said of the winning streak.
A week after USC barely survived a penalty- and turnover-plagued performance at Seattle and fell from the top spot in the Associated Press media poll, the Trojans played even worse on offense against the Cardinal.
Quarterback John David Booty had four passes intercepted, one that was returned for a touchdown, one that set up the game-winning score and one that ended the Trojans' hopes for a last-second victory.
Stanford won the game on quarterback Tavita Pritchard's touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on fourth and goal from USC's 10-yard line with 49 seconds left. Bradford beat cornerback Mozique McCurtis on the play, which silenced a crowd of 85,125, the first to witness a USC loss at home in six years.
Stanford, a 41-point underdog Saturday, also was the last team to defeat the Trojans at the Coliseum, 21-16 on Sept. 29, 2001.
"I don't know if there's ever been a game where a team was a 40-point underdog and playing with a quarterback making their first start" and won, said Harbaugh, whose team improved to 2-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference in his first season.
USC fans booed the team at halftime and also into the third quarter as the Trojans allowed the Cardinal to stay in the game with interceptions and a fumble. The Trojans sprinted off the field after the loss.
"It's very, very surreal," said senior nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, who had three sacks. "I've never had to do that before -- walk off our own field in defeat. It's a very disgusting feeling."
Stanford was coming off a 41-3 loss to Arizona State and was ranked last in the Pacific 10 in rushing defense and passing efficiency defense. But receiver Evan Moore, a senior from Brea, said he knew the Cardinal could beat USC when the Trojans went into halftime leading only 9-0.
"I didn't think they brought it today and I knew we had it," Moore said.
USC (4-1, 2-1 in the Pac-10) led, 9-0, at halftime after two mistake-filled quarters that featured dropped passes, penalties, a blocked extra-point attempt and a failure to score on fourth down from inside the Stanford one at the end of the second quarter, when Chauncey Washington was stopped for no gain.
Booty also suffered a fracture in the tip of the middle finger of his throwing hand, but played the rest of the game.
"There were some times when the balls were just bad, straight up. Just bad balls," said Booty, who completed 24 of 40 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns. "At times there was some pressure and there were times when we were forcing things at the end."
Safety Austin Yancy put the Cardinal on the path to an upset when he stepped in front of fullback Stanley Havili and picked off Booty's pass at the USC 31-yard line early in the third quarter. Yancy sprinted into the end zone, and Derek Belch's extra-point kick made the score 9-7.
Booty connected with tight end Fred Davis for a 16-yard gain on the next possession, but Davis fumbled. Stanford failed to capitalize, but the Trojans gave the Cardinal another shot when Booty overthrew David Ausberry and cornerback Nick Sanchez intercepted.
Once again USC stymied the Cardinal when Taylor Mays intercepted a long pass.
The Trojans went ahead, 16-7, on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Booty to Davis late in the third quarter, but the Cardinal answered immediately with a 75-yard, nine-play drive that running back Anthony Kimble capped with a one-yard touchdown to pull Stanford to within 16-14 with 14:54 left in the game.
Three minutes later, Booty connected with Ronald Johnson on a 47-yard touchdown pass play for a 23-14 lead.
Belch cut the lead to 23-17 with a 26-yard field goal with 5:43 remaining, and cornerback Wopamo Osaisai set up the game-winning drive when he intercepted Booty's pass and returned it 18 yards to USC's 45 with 2:50 left.
A pass interference call against safety Kevin Ellison moved the ball to the USC 30 and Pritchard calmly drove the Cardinal to the nine with a 20-yard pass to Richard Sherman on fourth-and-20 from the 29.
Pritchard scrambled for four yards on first down. Next, Moore caught a pass beyond the end line, then was unable to haul in a pass on third down.
Stanford was then penalized for having too many players on the field, setting up the fourth-and-10 play.