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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Pete Carroll is the common denominator in USC debacles

His place in coaching history is secure, but he has to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for inexplicable losses by Trojans in recent years.

September 20, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Florida versus Texas or USC for this season's national title is no longer the cinch it seemed Saturday when your paper hit pavement.

Tim Tebow and/or Colt McCoy for this year's Heisman Trophy also allowed for some rethinking, while opening a lane for speedy California tailback Jahvid Best.

He scored one-two-three-four-FIVE touchdowns against Minnesota.

And scratch, with the biggest No. 2 pencil you can find, Brigham Young from this year's storybook: No team from a league outside the "power six" has seriously contended for the Bowl Championship Series title and no team is going to do it this season after the Cougars were wiped out at home, 54-28, by Florida State.

Nostradamus once predicted Washington and Washington State would undergo years of simultaneous toil and upheaval only to one day rise to win games on the same day -- but this soon?

As usual, this is what always happens when you play the games.

It was Payback Saturday, not so much for Florida and Texas, but for Washington -- a 56-0 loser to USC last year in the Coliseum.

And now Washington State comes to Los Angeles next week on a one-game winning streak to play the team on the one-game losing streak?

Impossible, except it's true.

Florida was so internally combustive in trying to exact revenge for an opposing coach's comments, the trainer could have swapped out the Gatorade for bicarbonate of soda.

Tebow, the quarterback who does little wrong, had a key late fumble that helped narrow the final score into something Volunteers fans could almost brag about:

The headline in Knoxville could have been: "Tennessee Prevails: 13-23!"

At least Tebow didn't have to deliver a postgame speech that would be called "The Promise 2."

Texas' rip-snorting revenge for last year's loss to Texas Tech ended up a 10-point ho-hummer. McCoy, one of the most accurate passers in NCAA history, couldn't keep his fastball down most of the night.

The Longhorns' only touchdown in the first half came on a punt return in which Jordan Shipley almost ran into Bevo beyond the back of the end zone.

USC's 16-13 loss at Washington would be shocking if stuff like this didn't happen so often after big wins over Ohio State.

Side note: As USC was returning home after "the Mistake by the Lake," the last school to defeat USC in a regular-season nonconference game, Kansas State, was playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

For you history buffs: USC lost at Kansas State, 27-20, on Sept. 21, 2002, three games deep into Coach Pete Carroll's second season.

The only out-of-league game the Trojans have lost since came against Texas in the 2005 season national championship game.

From 2002 to now, USC's failure to handle unranked Pacific 10 Conference opponents in the Carroll era has cost the Trojans possible national titles in 2006, 2007, 2008 and . . . 2009?

Yep, it's time to hit the rewind button.

In 2006, USC beat Arkansas and Nebraska, but lost to Oregon State and UCLA.

In 2007, the Trojans handled Nebraska at home but not Stanford.

Last year, Ohio State posed no problem at home in September but Oregon State posed a big one 12 days later in Corvallis.

Blame third-year sophomore Aaron Corp and his dumb interception if you want for Saturday's defeat. But also remember tailback Stafon Johnson's fumble on the way to USC taking an early 17-7 lead.

Remember fullback Stanley Havili's second-half fumble as USC again seemed poised to take control.

There were also eight Trojans penalties for 75 yards.

Blame Corp, but don't lose your memory. It was Matt Leinart who lost to unranked Cal in 2003; John David Booty behind center for losses to Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford; and Mark Sanchez at quarterback last year at Corvallis.

Six of USC's eight defeats in Pac-10 play since 2002 have come against unranked teams. The exceptions: Washington State was No. 17 when it won in 2002 and Oregon was No. 5 two years ago when it won in Eugene.

Somebody on a micro-blog summed it up by tweeting that USC needs to stop scheduling unranked opponents.

Of course, that would mean opting out of the Pac-10

The untimely defeats, plus one play in the Texas game, have cost USC the almost unthinkable opportunity to have won six consecutive national titles.

Carroll's place in history is secure, but he was heading down a road toward Bear Bryant or better.

Can USC get back in the race this year? Yes, but the margin for error has been eliminated and the remaining games include at Cal, Oregon and Notre Dame.

In 2003, USC recovered from the triple-overtime loss to Cal to win the Associated Press national title.

In 2006, the Trojans could have survived the Oregon State defeat if they could have just defeated UCLA.

In 2007, USC could have even overcome the Stanford debacle had the Trojans not lost at Oregon.

Carroll, of course, is the common denominator in all of this -- seven BCS bowls in a row, 11-win years and top-four finishes in the AP.

He was also the coach last year, after Ohio State, who took a team to Corvallis. And the coach this year, after Ohio State, who brings a dejected team home from Seattle.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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