Sunday, November 27, 2011

We (still) run LA: USC 50, ucla 0

What's the difference between a Pac-12 South Champion and merely a division representative playing in the conference championship game?

Answer: 50 points.

USC has spent the last two years with an arm, a leg and 30 scholarships tied behind its back. Still the Trojans made sure that anyone under the illusion of a closer gap between the two Los Angeles schools was abruptly slammed back to reality. By the end of the night, I couldn't tell if the chants of "One more year!" were for Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley or for UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. Either way, it would be good news for USC.

The Trojans dominated UCLA, 50-0, in their final game of the 2011 season. USC is still under sanctions for "not knowing, but should have known" an agent gave Reggie Bush a house seven years ago. But after last night's performance, you can't quite say USC is still reeling from some of the harshest punishments doled out by the NCAA since SMU was slapped with the death penalty in the late 1980s.

The Bruins have every right to enjoy their default berth into the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game next week versus Oregon, who lost to USC in Eugene, Ore., earlier this season (the only other Ducks loss was to No. 1 LSU at Cowboys Stadium to open the year). Heck, UCLA could even play their way into a BCS Bowl with a win over Oregon. But even if they go on to win the Pac-12, they'll still know they weren't the champs. They'll know they didn't truly earn it.

To be the best, you have to beat the best, and neither Pac-12 Conference representative in next week's championship game has proven that this season. UCLA. Oregon. It doesn't matter. One of you may get a shiny new trophy for the display case in Westwood or Eugene, but when you look back on 2011, everyone in the footprint of the conference will remember it as the year that was won by technicality, when the true conference champion -- still heavily sanctioned (and yet we wait for the other shoe to drop at Ohio State and Miami) -- dominated whoever will falsely wear the crown.

The Pac-12 has said that USC can call itself the "first place" team but cannot declare itself the champions. That's fine. We still know. The same way that Trojans still know 55-19 happened. The same way we know Reggie earned the Heisman. It's easy to tell when someone is peddling a product that no one is buying, and right now the conference is trying to unload plenty of aluminum siding. Sorry, but no takers here.

USC still runs LA.

USC still runs the Pac-12.

And if Matt Barkley returns next season, USC runs the table.

Fight on!

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