LOS ANGELES -- Late in the fourth quarter of USC's 17-3 win against Cal, the Bears were driving down the field, only trailing by a touchdown, when Cal's student section began echoing the chant made famous during Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
"Yes we can!"
After falling short of their bid for an upset win, they could have started a new chant with Trojan fans, who after watching Penn State get upset started asking, "Can we now get into the national championship picture?"
"No, you can't!"
This was supposed to be a statement game for USC. An opportunity to show that the offense could score on teams outside of the state of Washington and that it could dominate a team that wasn't in the midst of a long losing streak and ranked at the bottom of the Pac-10.
In the end they proved what most outside of the number-crunching stat geeks who've only looked at the final box score of USC games have known for some time.
This team isn't that great.
Don't get me wrong. They're a good team. They're the best team in the Pac-10, but that's almost like calling Alec Baldwin the most together Baldwin. Does it really matter? They've all got their issues.
This was the Trojans last game against a ranked opponent this season, which will become a moot point Sunday when No. 21 Cal drops out of the rankings. The Trojans were back on ABC after being relegated to FSN the past three weeks, and before playing Stanford on Versus next week, and they led 10-3 with three minutes left in the game after scoring three points in the first quarter and failing to score a point in the third.
This was the statement game USC players were talking about? After Penn State dropped out of the national title picture and Alabama came enticingly close to doing the same in overtime, this was their way of proving that they belong in the conversation?
"We'll take a win, whether we're winning by one or a 100," said USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, who passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns. "We'd love to win every game 56-0 like we did against Washington but some games are just different."
The only difference was that this game was played against a decent Cal team instead of embarrassingly bad Arizona State, Washington State and Washington, who the Trojans beat 153-0. Against Arizona, USC only won 17-10, failing to score in the fourth quarter to put the game away and against Cal USC led only 10-3 in a game that could have been tied if Cal didn't have an illegal man downfield on a sure touchdown in the third quarter.
"I don't care about style points," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "I never have in all of the years I've been here. It feels like a popularity contest at times. It's unfortunate that it is the way it is."
Carroll may think it's unfair that USC's national championship hopes crumbled because of two bad quarters at Oregon State, but it's only right.
An undefeated USC team would have had about as much business as being in the national championship game this season as an undefeated Penn State squad. Thankfully for the SEC and Big 12, both teams were both done in by lowly, unranked conference opponents.
Look at USC's schedule this season and try to make an argument that they belong in the BCS championship game over one-loss teams like Texas, Florida, Oklahoma or even Penn State, who blew out Oregon State and beat a much better Ohio State team than USC faced and won in Columbus as opposed to their home field.
If Texas Tech and Alabama do actually lose at some point, most likely to a ranked team, they would still be ahead of a one-loss USC team based on their schedules. In fact, I would even put undefeated Boise State and Utah ahead of the Trojans. Boise State actually won its one game in the state of Oregon and Utah actually beat Oregon State and faces two teams ranked in the top 15 to close out its season.
All this, however, means little to Carroll, who professes he doesn't care about the BCS, doesn't know a thing about the BCS and is only focused on winning the Pac-10 and getting to the Rose Bowl, which by the way is another bowl game they must get help in order to make. If Oregon State wins its last three games they will be heading to the game as the Pac-10 champion.
"We don't think about that crap around here," said Carroll. "We try to win games around here. That's why I feel a lot better about this game than you may or other people may. This positions us to have a chance to win our conference. That's our goal."
If simply having a chance to win the Pac-10 is the Trojans' goal, then, yes, it was a good game because any goal of making it back to the national championship game would be a pipedream at this point.