Zombie head, check: we weren't going to believe that USC wasn't that good until we saw them lose, a.k.a. the "zombie rule" (Believe the zombie is dead when you see the head bashed in and rolling.) Oregon State brought the shaolin spade, ending their 27 game Pac-10 streak and allowing pollsters to cut the vestiges of 2003-2005 that had kept USC in the 2 spot.
Zombie hunters: If you're going to fight with a beaver, stay hard to win. USC didn't.
Immediate, short-term, bum-on-the-streeet-looking-for-food question: How far will the drop? Oh, they'll drop--oh, lordy will they. The question is how far (Nine spots? Behind Cal? Behind Notre Dame? And behind the Big East twins Louisville and West Virginia?)
Long-term, stodgy investment banker-pondering-investing-in-lunar-colonies question: is this a hiccup or a real change in periodicity for the otherwise boundless potential winning curve of the USC Trojans football program?
Think long and hard here, because programs all ebb and flow differently, but on a hedging historical note did you not think of other dynasties exiting the chrysalis of back to back championships and emerging as...merely good? Or worse still, declining? We wondered at the time if we were watching that instant where coach-poaching, new starters, and the ravages of change had finally caught up with the Trojans. And we think, sitting on the caffeine rocket of a Monday morning, that we finally did see that on Saturday. It's less similar to Miami/Ohio State '02, where OSU beat a team that never dominated like that again; the best comparison would likely be to Nebraska/Arizona State '96, where ASU bit the ass of a team clearly in transition between various forms of badassedness. Nebraska would share the national title the next year, which USC very well could do next year. But those waiting for a clear statement of intereggnum in CFB finally got it after a season of close calls, and as we shape our mountain of mashed potatoes at the dinner table, we tell you that...this means something.
Jake the Snake, pre-mustache days, saw a dynasty cruising on past credit take a dip, too.
Call HR, revise incentives package immediately. Another thing that has added up in grand fashion for the Trojans: coaching brain drain. Ed Orgeron may not have been the valedictorian of his class at Huey Long's School for Bayou Badasses, but he did create lineman who played as if their families' lives depended on it. (Probably because Ed had them followed by backwoods assassins ready to strike at any time. Black cat, white cat, still catches mice, right?) More pressing still, the duo of Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, wunderkind coaches that they are, clearly coach at a level just a few notches below the standard established by Norm Chow. Key coaching turnover has likely robbed the Trojans of a few of the margins that used to sustain them through close shaves and blow open potential cruise games over crap opposition.
Talent is king, whether it pulls the strings on the sidelines or throws those beguilingly simple pass routes the Trojans specialize in, and attracting it and keeping it is as much a function of the organization as the actual execution of plays on the field. The Trojans have, at least by the Economist's standards, done the right things: hired and trained internally, mentored talent from within (see Kiffin and Sarkisian,) and tried to hire the best people they can to coach the team. (If you don't think coaching is all that important, exit discussion four sentences ago. Sorry for the late notice.) They've done the same for recruiting, a sale made easier by the twin aphrodesiacs of glamour and plush SoCal living.
And yet in all systems, there's a trough, and SC's hit one. The rest of the season's plotlines will rush through the hole put in USC's season on Saturday, making the Oregon State Beavers the most important player in the semi-mythical national college football scene this year. If you'd care to argue that, ruminate on the fact that with a victory in the APOCALYPTICALLY IMPORTANT MONDOMATCH OF THE MILLENIUM on Thursday, West Virginia could put a Big East team in line for a shot at the national title without a surfeit of backflipping by the BCS. Thanks to Oregon State, you're sipping blue coffee in bizarro world this morning. For that breath of fresh and strange air, our hats off to the Beavers.
This season brought to you by Bizarro Superman and the Oregon State Beavers. You're welcome.