Stanford rout of USC represents Pac-10 revolution

CFN’s Instant Analysis of Stanford’s 55-21 rout of USC:

Pac-10 parity, at last

Is Stanford that good or does USC stink? At the moment, it appears to be a little of both, and that’s a great thing for the Pac-10.

The conference of USC and nine little brothers has suddenly become extremely interesting, and while it partly has to do with the improvements across the board — with programs like Arizona, Oregon State and Oregon becoming relevant — it’s helped even more by USC taking a step down from its ridiculously high standards.

So now the question becomes whether or not the Trojans can get it back or if this is the start of the inevitable slide. Florida State came back down to earth. So did Miami. After a three-loss Pac-10 season in which the defense started to get gouged and the offense looked absolutely ordinary, it might be time to worry …

Yeah, right.

Watch and see how many obituaries are written about USC as it suffers its first honest-to-goodness slump under Pete Carroll. Watch and see how many people start talking about what’s wrong with USC and how there needs to be a few major changes made to get back to being USC.

The answer is simple: the program is rebuilding. There’s a true freshman at quarterback, most of the superior defense of 2008 had to be replaced and, yeah, the entire program might have gotten a bit fat and happy from the head coach on down.

But don’t assume that this was the sign of anything more than just a few bad games. Two ugly losses in three weeks doesn’t mean it’s time to blow up the ship.

For Stanford, being able to stay deep in the hunt for the Pac-10 title this late in November shows just how special Jim Harbaugh is as a head coach and just how good the program can be with the right people in place.

Stanford can’t be an every-year powerhouse, but it can be competitive and productive on a regular basis. And with 106 points in the last two weeks against two top-10 teams, this might be the last team anyone in the Pac-10 wants to face.

With a near-perfect offensive balance, two NFL-bound players in key spots in QB Andrew Luck and RB Toby Gerhart and the confidence that goes with beating up strong Pac-10 teams, the league could do worse than send the Cardinal to Pasadena to face Ohio State.

— Pete Fiutak

Changing of the guard

1. It’s one thing to be gashed by Oregon’s spread option and the sleight of hand used by the Ducks. It’s quite another matter to be bludgeoned to death by Stanford’s pure pro-style power.

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USC had injuries to major offensive performers, yet it was the defensive side of the ball that gave the Trojans no support whatsoever in this contest.

Again, this was one tremendous run by Pete Carroll’s program: No November losses, all those Pac-10 titles. It was going to end sometime and now it’s genuinely and fully done.

2. Jim Harbaugh was being a little harsh, it seemed, when he said this was a “put up or shut up” moment for Stanford football.

No one would say this program has underachieved under Harbaugh’s tutelage. Yet, the former Michigan star was obviously making a point; he was trying to change the subculture of a program, much as a fellow named Pete Carroll did at USC in 2002.

Now, Stanford has a great chance to go 9-3 and perhaps snag a berth in the Holiday Bowl. Talk about changing the culture.

— Matt Zemek

Give Harbaugh credit

It’s now official, for at least this year: The USC mystique is gone in the Pac-10.

Stanford’s gleeful thumping of the Trojans in the Coliseum shows that Pete Carroll can’t just slap cardinal jerseys on anybody and expect championships.

This looked like a down year for ‘SC at the start, but none of us wanted to believe it. After watching the Trojans in the past few weeks, it’s pretty easy to believe and understand.

Even the mighty Trojans can’t win every year in this college football climate.

But enough about sagging USC. This is about Jim Harbaugh, Toby Gerhart and Stanford, which have combined to create one of the true programs on the rise in the nation. They deserve plenty of attention.

This isn’t a team that’s ready to contend for BCS titles or anything, but the Cardinal can sure put points on the board. And Gerhart is a bona fide top-level Heisman candidate who deserves to be lionized. That Andrew Luck character is pretty darn good, too.

Stanford doesn’t play great defense, and that’s Harbaugh’s next challenge, but when it comes to putting up the numbers and playing exciting football, Stanford is back, bowl-bound and responsible for putting the final nail in USC’s 2009 season.

— Michael Bradley