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Leaving the USC football team in a sorry state

What do an aspiring pilot, a political science major and a former walk-on have in common? The joke is on the Trojans when they're in Oregon.


Where they are now, as if anyone who follows USC gives a load of lumber:

* Jeff Van Orsow lives in Spokane, Wash., and is pursuing his commercial pilot's license.

* Matthew Harper graduated with a political science degree and works as an intern in Oregon's athletic department.

* Greg Laybourn plays in the United Football League for the Las Vegas Locomotives.

It's Halloween, USC has crossed the state line into Oregon again, and three haunting faces of the Trojans' past have come to deliver a message:


USC's last three excursions into Oregon have had the Trojans seeing green but even more red.

Three losses in three years may have cost USC three national championships -- dreams ruined by an aspiring pilot, a poli sci grad and a former walk-on.

The Trojans are 25-0 in regular-season nonconference games since September 2001. Pete Carroll is 27-0 in all November games while Indiana, where Notre Dame is located, has not lately been a state of concern.

USC has defeated the Buckeyes in Ohio, whitewashed Auburn on Alabama's plains, left Razorbacks squealing in Arkansas and went to Florida to rout Oklahoma and Iowa.

But USC has lost three straight in the state of Oregon?

It doesn't make any sense.

Oregon in September 2005 was a breeze, with USC scoring an easy 45-13 win over the Ducks in Autzen Stadium.

Since then, the winds and losses picked up.

Oregon State 33, USC 31

Oct. 28, 2006 in Corvallis

Third-ranked USC rallied from a 23-point deficit to close to within two with seven seconds to play. On the two-point conversion attempt, John David Booty's intended pass for Dwayne Jarrett was knocked down by defensive end Jeff Van Orsow.

Life has never been the same.

"Oregon State tends to hold on to that kind of stuff for a long time," Van Orsow reflected this week.

You think?

Van Orsow once worked for a lawyer in Corvallis.

"I was never 'Jeff Van Orsow, this guy works for me,' " he said. "I was always, 'Hey, you remember the USC game in 2006? This is the guy!' "

Van Orsow remembers being frustrated all day by Sam Baker, USC's All-American left tackle.

"I couldn't get around him," Van Orsow said.

On the play that mattered, though, all Van Orsow did was jump up to knock down a Booty pass that, USC fans would assure you, needed a little more air under it.

"OK, I'll just get my hands up," Van Orsow said he thought, "but how many times does that ever happen? I can't describe it, it just happened. [Baker] had his hands in my chest. I didn't jump very high. The receiver was covered. And now I'm welcome at every tailgate."

Oregon 24, USC 17

Oct. 27, 2007 in Eugene

This wasn't an upset -- Oregon was ranked No. 5 to USC's No. 9. Mark Sanchez was making his third start in place of the injured Booty. Sanchez was coming off a four-touchdown game at Notre Dame, but defeat at Oregon was sealed when two second-half passes were intercepted by Harper, a safety.

"Last week I was a hero and this week I'm a zero," Sanchez said afterward.

Harper said this week that, on the last pick, he baited Sanchez and then stepped in front of the pass intended for tight end Fred Davis, clinching the win at Oregon's 16 with 11 seconds left.

"I jumped the tight end and it was history from there," Harper said.

Harper has not had has name legally changed, but ever since that day he is pretty much known around town as "Oh, you're the guy who intercepted USC."

Oregon State 27, USC 21

Sept. 25, 2008 in Corvallis

This was a shocker. After USC dismantled Ohio State, 35-3, at the Coliseum, some wondered whether these Trojans were Coach Pete Carroll's best team. Twelve days after Ohio State, on a Thursday night, we found out it wasn't.

The Trojans, ranked No. 1 and 25-point favorites, were mesmerized by a 5-foot-7 freshman running back from Texas named Jacquizz Rodgers, who danced between USC defenders for 186 yards.

Late in the game, down, 21-14, USC got the ball back with a chance to tie when safety Laybourn intercepted a Sanchez pass and returned it 28 yards to the USC two. Rodgers scored from there with 2:39 left to clinch the victory.

Hardly a week goes by when Laybourn, a Portland native, doesn't hear about his big play.

"It's always fun when I go home," Laybourn said. "People still talk about it."

The funny part, not to USC, is that Laybourn attended Oregon State to play baseball but somehow couldn't shake his passion for pigskin.

"I couldn't stand being away from football," he said.

Every time they crossed paths, Laybourn said, football Coach Mike Riley would say, "What do I have to do to get you on the field?"

The Three Trojan Killers can't fully explain why USC has struggled in Oregon.

There are theories, one being the programs know each other inside and out.

"Teams in the Pac-10 are familiar with USC," said Harper, the former Duck. "It's like the Big Ten and teams being familiar with Ohio State and Michigan. Why can Purdue beat Ohio State? Because it's all in the conference -- it's just another big game."

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