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ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL : Carroll suffers another Stanford home invasion

November 15, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden says the epitaph on his tombstone should read " . . . but he played Miami" for all the times the Hurricanes crushed his heart and cost him national titles.

USC Coach Pete Carroll, after Saturday, might one day have to consider " . . . but he played Stanford."

The Cardinal's 55-21 beat down at the Coliseum was epic and stupefying and a lot of other adjectives that can't be printed.

Stanford has, so far, possibly cost USC the national title in 2007, when the Cardinal won here two years ago as a 41-point underdog.

Had USC won on that unforgettable day, the Trojans, not two-loss Louisiana State, would have played Ohio State for the national title.

You can guess which team might have prevailed.

Stanford this year may have only denied USC its eighth consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title and eighth Bowl Championship Series bowl appearance -- the dream of a national title died in Oregon.

Stanford has now dealt Carroll three of his four home losses in nine years at USC. The first came in Carroll's infancy, 2001, when Tyrone Willingham was Stanford's coach.

The last two were the work of Jim Harbaugh, each extraordinary in different ways. The 2007 defeat was, inarguably, one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football, while Saturday's was etched as one of the worst defeats in USC history and the most points a Trojans team has given up.

If things remain on this track, Stanford may never allow USC another chance to play for a national title.

" . . . but he played Stanford."

OK, it's more than that, of course. The USC defense has been a sieve for several weeks now, with last week's 14-9 win at Arizona State a piece of bubblegum stuck in the Hoover Dam. The defense had to be overhauled from the start and there has been a litany of injuries, justifiable explanations for this degree of calamity.

USC's season, though, has felt off-kilter since August, when Carroll made the remarkable move of benching injured starter Aaron Corp and going with freshman Matt Barkley at quarterback.

It just seemed so unlike Carroll, who had brilliantly worked the progression of experience and patience into the careers of Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez.

Corp began the season as a third-year sophomore, and Mitch Mustain, a transfer who was 8-0 as a starter at Arkansas, seemed old as Methuselah.

Carroll, though, risked his chips on a kid who started the season at 18 and may feel like 30 before it's over.

Barkley was very solid early on, but Carroll's weekly appraisals were way over the top.

It was crazy talk when, after the win at California, Carroll said of Barkley, "He is playing as good of football as anybody we have ever had already."

It was a fact then, and remains one now, that no team that has started the season with a true freshman at quarterback has won a national title.

Carroll made you think sometimes this could be different, but it wasn't.

The combination of porous defense, a freshman quarterback, injuries and a conference ready to fight USC back started to catch up against Oregon State, caught all the way up in Eugene, Ore., on Halloween, took a brief respite last week in Tempe, Ariz., and then exploded Saturday.

All four of Barkley's turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble) led to Stanford touchdowns.

Saturday was so inexplicable the vaunted home team deserved to cry foul when the big, bad visiting coach opted for a two-point conversion after expanding the lead to 48-21.

Was Harbaugh trying to hang half a hundred on USC?

You bet he was.

Harbaugh has some Steve Spurrier in him, and you could appreciate, if not respect, the intent.

Stanford's win two years ago was considered a fluke. The point here was that Saturday was no fluke. Saturday was restitution for Stanford fans who have suffered on the flip side of this score. It was for a bitter loss in 1969 and 49-0 blowout in 1977.

When Carroll wasn't losing three times to Stanford, he was winning 51-21 (2005), 42-0 (2006), 49-17 (2002), 44-21 (2003) and 45-23 (2008).

USC leads the series, 59-26-3.

Didn't Palo Alto deserve a day it could try to score as many points as it could?

A 26-year-old kicker named Barclay, not a 19-year-old quarterback named Barkley, led his team to a Rose Bowl berth Saturday.

Ohio State kicker Devin Barclay's 39-field goal in overtime, in Columbus, lifted the host Buckeyes to their first Rose Bowl bid since the 1996 season.

Ironic, isn't it? The team USC beat in early September, on a dramatic drive led by a kid quarterback, is headed to Pasadena.

September seems like such a long time ago.

A BCS at-large bowl was possible when Carroll awoke Saturday.

" . . . but he played Stanford."

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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