That classic doesn’t seem like it was played yesterday. It also doesn’t feel like ancient history. But it’s been nearly 16 years, an eternity in an era when far too many people believe the conversations of the best [whatever] ever is confined to a time frame that started when they began paying attention.
Still, considering a current college freshman was a toddler when the Longhorns claimed that 41-38 victory, it’s beyond the memory of the next wave of stars who will enter the sport.
That thought came to mind as both Southern Cal and Texas had angst-filled weekends far earlier in the season than either fan base would like. Yet it’s also a dose of truth of what both programs are at this stage, and maybe it’s time to view those halcyon days as an exception rather than the rule.
This is heresy, of course, to fans of either traditional power. For those without a rooting interest, it’s simply an acknowledgment of the truth.
Let’s start with Texas, since it is just into its latest coaching cycle. Steve Sarkisian’s honeymoon in Austin lasted all of two games thanks to a 40-21 drubbing at Arkansas. He at least had the courtesy to win his Longhorn debut, something predecessor Tom Herman failed to do against Maryland in 2017.
But we’ve been through this exercise with Texas before. The Longhorns won 73 games in the 1980s, 74 in the 1990s, 110 in the Aughts and 71 in the 2010s. Forty seasons is not a small sample size. It’s not hard to peg the outlier, and Texas warrants skepticism until it can effectively harness its financial resources and geographic advantages again.
(This is also the point when it’s worth noting surpluses in money and access to talent will not be so considerable once the Longhorns head into the SEC, but that’s a less immediate problem than the fallout from a loss to a once-and-future conference rival).
Southern Cal’s current plight, which cost coach Clay Helton his job Monday, isn’t quite so jarring. Let’s play the same decade-by-decade game with the Trojans. They won 78 contests in the 1980s, 68 in the 1990s, 102 in the Aughts (before a bunch of victories were vacated) and 86 in the 2010s.
This doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter. USC was 82-9 from 2002 to 2008, a standard that’s immensely difficult to meet. Pete Carroll’s various successors are a combined 92-47 in 11-plus seasons, with four 10-win seasons and two New Year’s Six trips — not bad and not a drop off like Texas, but not what Trojans fans expect.
Well, what should they expect? Not giving up 42 points to Stanford and having the L.A. Coliseum empty out well before the end of a game is reasonable. Demanding that the Trojans match the heart of Carroll’s run isn’t.
What’s a realistic middle ground? Slightly higher and more consistent highs. Also: Making it to October without a loss every so often, something Southern Cal hasn’t done in a full season since 2010.
The reality is neither USC nor Texas has produced in a way to match its reputation in the last decade.
Maybe those reputations should change as a result, but that happens slowly. This much is clear: No one is entitled to success, as the Trojans and Longhorns were again reminded.
Five with the most at stake in Week 3
1. Florida. The Gators were largely unbothered (and relatively uninteresting) while dispatching Florida Atlantic and South Florida over the last two Saturdays. That changes with Alabama coming to town. Quarterback Anthony Richardson, Florida’s top rusher, is ailing after experiencing hamstring tightness. A win in this rematch of last year’s SEC title game probably vaults Florida into the top five. A loss likely removes any playoff wiggle room.
2. Cincinnati. The Bearcats (2-0) don’t have many chances to make an impression while people are paying attention, and this week offers one. It would be better for Cincinnati if Indiana hadn’t gotten drubbed in its opener at Iowa, but this is still an opportunity against a perceived quality Power Five team. Desmond Ridder and Co. only get one more of those, Oct. 2 at Notre Dame.
3a. Auburn and 3b. Penn State. There’s probably a bit more on the line for the visiting Tigers, who have pounded Akron and Alabama State by a combined 122-10 in Coach Bryan Harsin’s first two games. Not exactly much of a barometer to go on. The Nittany Lions (2-0) have already won at Wisconsin, and it’s still too soon to know just how much of a resume boost beating Auburn will be this year.
4. Brigham Young. Already 2-0 against Pac-12 teams (including a Holy War defeat of Utah), the Cougars welcome Arizona State to Provo. BYU isn’t lacking for high-profile foes the rest of the way (Boise State, Baylor, Washington State, Virginia, Southern California), but this might be the best opponent left for the Cougars to contend with.
5. Notre Dame. With escapes against Florida State and Toledo to begin the year, the Irish have been anything but impressive. Now along comes 2-0 Purdue, which faced Notre Dame every year from 1946 to 2014 but not since. The Boilermakers haven’t won in South Bend since 2004, but have made a habit of playing ranked teams tough under Coach Jeff Brohm. That could make for another tricky day for the Irish.
1. QB Bryce Young, Alabama (571 yards, 7 TD passing). After torching Mercer last week, Young makes his first career road start this week as the Crimson Tide heads to the Swamp for its toughest test to date. (Last week: 1)
2. RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State (321 yards, 5 TD rushing). Tough to hold a low-usage day against an FCS team against Walker, who had seven rushes for 57 yards and a touchdown against Youngstown State. (LW: 3)
3. QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (547 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT; 36 yards rushing, 1 TD). Who says the Sooner star is inconsistent? He’s completed exactly 76.9 percent of his passes in both of Oklahoma’s games this season, and he’ll get his first Power Five test of the year as Nebraska rolls into Norman. (LW: Not ranked)
4. QB Matt Corral, Mississippi (662 yards, 6 TD passing; 90 yards rushing, 1 TD rushing). Torched Austin Peay for five touchdowns last week. Alabama is on the horizon after an open date, but first Corral and the Rebels must contend with Tulane. (LW: 5)
5. QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (538 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT passing; 27 yards, 1 TD rushing). Off to a fine start in defeats of Miami (Ohio) and Murray State, but if Ridder is going to make a Heisman push, he’ll probably need to shine against Indiana and Notre Dame in the next three weeks. (LW: NR)
6. RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (223 yards, 4 TD rushing; 2 receptions, 49 yards). After an early open date, Charbonnet and the Bruins should be plenty rested with a tough Fresno State bunch coming to Pasadena. (LW: 6)