USChadenfreude: The Trojan Dynasty Is Dead

Dan Shanoff writes a weekly college football column for Deadspin. Email him to let him know what you think.

Appalachian State over Michigan. Syracuse over Louisville. Last weekend's upheaval of the unbeatens. All were mere prelude to the mother lode:

Stanford beat USC: The poster child of college football in the 21st Century lost to its red-headed step-sibling.

Thinking back over the decade's Trojan Dynasty, there have been a few priceless moments of schadenfreude: The 2006 Rose Bowl. Reggie Bush's scandal. The 2007 BCS implosion. Matt Leinart's life.

This tops them all: USC — mighty, dominant, loaded USC — losing at home to a 41-point Stanford underdog that was so sorry, the Cardinal scored all of 3 points a week ago in a 41-3 loss to Arizona State (and might as well have not even shown up for a shutout blowout at home a year ago to USC.)

This isn't simply about USC flushing away any hopes it had of competing for a national title this season. Like many, I would argue that this is the single most humiliating loss in modern college football history.

Michigan lost to a two-time defending 1-AA champion. Louisville doesn't play defense. So what's USC's excuse?

Maybe USC wasn't as good as its preseason No. 1 ranking (or even last week's No. 2 ranking) would have suggested. That might explain a loss later this season at Cal or other would-be Pac-10 contender.

No: In the end, this USC team was so vastly (and, in hindsight, obviously) overrated that they couldn't hold serve at home against the worst team in the West, playing with a thoroughly inexperienced emergency starting QB and no expectation of victory, let alone the expectation of a last-minute come-from-behind game-winning drive.

I come not to haze the Trojans but to bury them: The USC dynasty, running from an October 12, 2002 win over Cal through October 6, 2007 is dead.

There was foreshadowing: Getting overrun by Vince Young, losing to Oregon State and UCLA last year, unwanted pregnancies, shady alleged Heisman-sized payoffs, consistently uninspired 2007 performances.

But it wasn't until the Trojans lost ... at HOM E... to STANFORD ... that the "USChadenfreude" reached the critical, blissful moment where everyone else can stand up and cheer:

Every team that USC plays from now on can think - they can know - that they can beat the Trojans. Beat them in the Coliseum. Beat them late in the 4th quarter. Beat them when they are undefeated. Beat them with a backup QB. Beat them without any sort of winning legacy.

USC's aura of invincibility - its reign of respect - is over. It's so hard to feel superior when you're losing ... at home ... to Stanford.

This Week's Bandwagon: Ron Zook. If, like long-suffering Illinois fans, your season's expectations are "bowl eligibility," there might not be a better coach than Ron Zook. The guy recruits for a Top 10 program, then coaches the actual games like a Bottom 10 program. The result is perfectly decent, if you have no aspirations beyond the "Any Bowl."

At Illinois, he was off to a typically Zookian start: 4-19 in his first two seasons, including a solitary win in the Big Ten. But, as promised, the guy started reeling in these spectacular recruiting classes, stocking the pipeline with talent that could overcome whatever shortcomings Zook might have as, y'know, a coach.

This season has blown past any expectations: With the foreshadowing of a season-opening near-miss against a still-unbeaten Top 10 Missouri team, Zook has led Illinois to five straight wins, including three Big Ten wins, including back-to-back wins over ranked teams, including then-No. 5 Wisconsin, in a game in which Illinois went into the game favored. In five weeks, he has eclipsed his previous two seasons.

That preseason goal of bowl eligibility could come as early as this weekend at Iowa. Astonishingly, a 10-win season is not inconceivable. However, a word of caution to any Illinois bandwagoneers: Remember the original expectations, and remember this is Ron Zook we're talking about.

My BlogPoll Ballot Top 10:
1. LSU
Rallied like a team of destiny.
2. Cal
The Pac-10 is there for the taking.
3. Ohio St
Good news: Big Ten down (Bad news: B10 down)
4. South Florida
Why the trouble with Florida Atlantic?
5. Cincinnati
You scoff, yet just wait...
6. Boston College
Matt Ryan for Heisman?
7. Oklahoma
Now wait for stumbles ahead of them
8. Oregon
Well if Stanford can beat USC...
9. Missouri
All of a sudden, the Big 12's best
10. Florida
Like LSU '06: CFB's best 2-loss team
My complete Top 25 ballot.

Ranking Ranting: Let me get this straight: Michigan was ranked No. 4, lost to the two-time-defending 1-AA champion, yet was dropped completely out of the rankings. USC was ranked No. 2, lost to one of the five worst teams of any BCS conference (at home!), yet only dropped to No. 10 (No. 7 in the Coaches' and Harris polls. No. 7!) To save you the trip, I put them at No. 25 in my BlogPoll ballot, and I think that's totally reasonable.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Schedule

Missouri at Oklahoma: Forget the Red River Rivalry. All of a sudden, this is the de facto Big 12 Championship. (No offense to Kansas.)
Pick: Oklahoma

LSU at Kentucky: After the Tigers' emotional win at home against Florida, will they suffer a let-down in Lexington? If South Carolina's tough D can stifle Andre Woodson, then I cringe at what LSU's D can do.
Pick: LSU

Boston College at Notre Dame: The Irish's jubilation at finally winning a game this season will be short-lived after B.C. swamps them in South Bend.
Pick: BC

The Bandwagoneer at Home: Just to find a little closure from last week's post about Florida's season being over, OK, now it's REALLY over. But when the Gators win the national title next season, we will point to this near-miss at LSU as the moment the run began. (Damn it.)

As always, direct any comments or questions to me at danshanoff-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.