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Instant Analysis: Stanford-USC

Staff Columnist
Posted Oct 7, 2007

Imagine a Bear Bryant Alabama team losing in 1979 to Northwestern. Think of Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma Sooners losing in 1956 to Vanderbilt. Visualize the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers losing to Baylor. If you find it impossible to do those things, well, you need to try harder. Pete Carroll's Trojan Empire of College Football just lost to Stanford.

This was much bigger than Michigan losing to Appalachian State. This wasn't an opening week game, when rust can be an issue. USC had established a culture of winning that was even more entrenched than the positive mentality that exists in Ann Arbor. As good as Michigan has been, USC has fared even better over the past several seasons. And while Stanford is a power conference team, Appy State was a two-time defending champion at the FCS level of competition. This game easily exceeds Appy State-Michigan on the richter scale of upset measurements.

Stanford's toppling of mighty Troy is a bigger upset than Temple winning as a 36-point dog against Virginia Tech back in 1998. Yes, Temple is and has been a downtrodden program, but there were times in the late 1990s when Temple's (then) Big East opponents could allow the Owls to linger within striking distance on lackluster days at the office. Virginia Tech, in the pre-Vick era, lacked the kind of offense that enabled the Hokies to coast to victory on an everyday basis. As huge as that upset was, there was a sliver of sanity behind it.

But this? This absolutely ridiculous shocker with the over-the-top Hollywood finish that silenced a stunned Hollywood crowd in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? This was the game that made no sense, broke all the rules, and stomach-punched everyone in the college football world. Never has this sport--in its 138-year history--witnessed an eye-popping earthquake of a result such as this one.

Not when you consider that Stanford converted a 4th and 20 and then a 4th and 10 to take the lead in the final minute.

Not when you consider that USC donated a pick-six and another interception that made the ultimate upset possible.

Not when you consider that the Trojans had allowed just 66 yards through the first two and a half quarters (while gaining 379).

And definitely not when you consider that Stanford's quarterback, Tavita Pritchard, was a backup who was making his first ever start. Yeah, that's right--his very first start. Pritchard--seemingly thrown to the wolves in his first collegiate baptism by fire--played with uncommon poise once his team fell behind by nine points (16-7 and 23-14) on two separate occasions in the second half, and stayed strong on those two fourth-and-forevers in the dying moments of regulation.

Sure, USC was playing without two starting offensive linemen, which made the Trojans' offense sluggish and cut into Troy's overall level of production. Of course, Pete Carroll needed to find better combinations. But the Cardinal still put on the field a defense that had been dismantled by Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. Even on an off day, USC--battered though it was--should have been able to put 30 on Stanford. When you consider that John David Booty gave at least 10 points to Stanford, courtesy of interceptions, the Trojans netted just 13 points against the Cardinal.

The person who puts this shocker in perfect perspective is, coincidentally enough, first-year Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. The new man in Palo Alto flatly said in the offseason that USC might be "The best team in college football history." The man who praised Troy managed to bury the Trojans on Saturday night.

And here's the capper to this amazing story in a city--Los Angeles--known for its Hollywood endings: Harbaugh's offseason--one grand attempt to lift Stanford back to gridiron glories of the past--was spent on many days in an office with a man known for creating rags-to-riches football odysseys in the Bay Area. The condition of the 1979 San Francisco 49ers mirrored the condition of the 2007 Stanford Cardinal heading into this game against USC, which flew well below the national radar... until things got interesting, and then some.

Yes, in the wake of the greatest upset in college football's entire history--a history that stretches back to 1869, four years after the Civil War came to an end--one can fairly say that somewhere in a land of peace and joy, Bill Walsh is smiling broadly as he looks down on pupil Jim Harbaugh, and a bunch of Stanford men who have just attained a considerable measure of gridiron immortality.

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