- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

USC’s Achilles’ always seems to be some Pac-10 heel. While most of the nation slept Thursday night, Pac-10 afterthought and 25-point underdog Oregon State stunned the top-ranked Trojans (2-1) in Corvallis, Ore., 27-21.

“I’m beside myself,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “They weren’t trying to disguise what they were doing, but we still couldn’t stop it. We just couldn’t tackle [Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers].”

The 5-foot-6 freshman jitterbug finished with 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. In USC’s last 50 games, only Texas quarterback Vince Young has tormented the Trojans in similar fashion. Young finished with 200 rushing yards in the Longhorns’ 2006 BCS title-game victory over USC.

“I’m a small dude,” Rodgers said. “I’m out there hiding behind my offensive line, and they couldn’t find me.”

While Oregon State (2-2) deserves kudos for its game plan and inspired play, this was the same group that dropped its opener to Pac-10 doormat Stanford (36-28) and suffered a 45-14 mauling at Penn State in the season’s second week. Make no mistake, the Beavers didn’t suddenly become a Pac-10 contender; in fact, they’ll be lucky to finish the season bowl-eligible.

The bottom line is, Thursday’s result had more to do with USC’s apathy than OSU’s ability. And the hard reality is, such performances have become an annual occurrence for Carroll’s Trojans. While USC is murder in marquee matchups (just ask Ohio State), the Trojans have found trouble in the soft portion of their schedule in each of the past three seasons.

In 2006, undefeated USC lost to 4-3 Oregon State and then worked its way back into the title picture before a loss to 6-5 UCLA. Last season, the then No. 2 Trojans dropped a home game to 35-point underdog Stanford, which finished the season 4-8.

How can this happen annually to a team that virtually always boasts the most talented roster in the nation? The answer is simple: coaching. Carroll is a charismatic guy and a marvelous recruiter. But his laissez-faire style, open practices and West Coast cool breed the kind of complacency to which blue-chip collegians making a pit stop in Los Angeles on the way to the NFL are already susceptible. As long as Carroll has one hand on the rudder and one hand pressing flesh with the local celebs, maddening losses to inferior teams will remain a USC tradition.

The Trojans likely will destroy some hapless Big Ten team like Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, but they don’t stand a chance of reaching the BCS title game. A loss to a sub-.500 team counts as a loss and a half to the voters, so teams such as Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Texas, Wisconsin, Penn State and Alabama all have an effective two-game cushion on the Trojans.

The title picture now seems relatively clear; barring a dominant unbeaten team emerging from the Big Ten, the BCS title game likely will feature the SEC winner vs. the Big 12 winner. The Trojans might be better than either of those respective conference champions by season’s end. Thanks to their complacent effort in Corvallis, that will never be known.

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