- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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For the first month of the college football season, the burning question wasn't which two teams would play for the BCS national championship.
Instead, the question on everyone's mind was: Which team would play USC?
The Trojans looked so dominant in early-season victories over Virginia and then-No. 5 Ohio State that it seemed to be a foregone conclusion they'd run through their Pac-10 schedule with little resistance and finish the season with an unblemished record.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to Miami. Oregon State stunned the Trojans for the second time in three seasons, handing the country's top-ranked team a shocking 27-21 defeat on Thursday night.
Suddenly, every good team in college football seems to be back in the national championship race.
SEC teams like Alabama, Georgia, Florida and defending BCS national champion LSU no longer have to worry about finishing unbeaten against a murderer's row schedule. Big 12 teams such as Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and even Texas Tech might actually be afforded a mulligan as they navigate their way through the final two-plus difficult months of the season.
Big Ten teams such as Penn State and Wisconsin -- and even back-to-back BCS title game loser Ohio State -- have newfound hope of winning a national championship this season. So do non-BCS teams like Boise State and BYU.
Because no matter what the Trojans do from now until season's end, they will be hard-pressed to do enough to overcome their second stunning upset in as many seasons. And their overall body of work won't be any more impressive than the aforementioned teams.
USC will have fewer chances to impress voters this season. The Trojans entered this week as the only Pac-10 team ranked in the Top 25. The Mountain West and WAC had more ranked teams than the Pac-10. In fact, Mountain West teams were 5-0 against Pac-10 foes.
Because of the Pac-10's mediocrity, USC had no room for error. The Trojans erred in a big way against the Beavers.
And why did we think USC was so good to begin with?
The Trojans' 35-3 victory over Ohio State? Apparently, it was just a case of another non-Big Ten team beating up the Buckeyes. The Trojans' 52-7 victory over Virginia? USC was impressive flying across the country and routing an ACC team by 45 points on its home field in its opener. In hindsight, though, the Cavaliers must really be that bad. After all, Duke is favored over Virginia on Saturday.
Still, many college football pundits were quick to anoint USC as the team to beat in 2008. But Virginia was blasted by Connecticut 45-10 in the Cavaliers' third game. And the Buckeyes, who narrowly beat Ohio and Troy, didn't have tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells when they played USC in the Coliseum.
We were all blinded by USC's stable of pretty tailbacks and prettier Song Girls. We forgot this was the same school that lost to Stanford and UCLA and Oregon State during the previous three seasons.
The Trojans should suffer the same fate Ohio State did two weeks ago. The Buckeyes fell eight spots to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll after losing badly at USC. That same plunge is exactly what the Trojans deserve.
USC isn't the No. 1 team in the country. It didn't even look like a top-10 team against Oregon State.
And that means things are looking up in places like Norman, Athens, Gainesville, Baton Rouge, Columbia, Austin, Tuscaloosa, Madison, Provo and State College. Just to name a few.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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