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Stanford thumping shows rest of Pac-10 has caught up to USC

It had to end sometime, but few would have guessed USC's reign over the Pac-10 would end with such a thud.

After enduring the worst defeat of the Pete Carroll era twice in three weeks, it's safe to say the rest of the conference has caught up to the Trojans -- at least for this season. And while it would be easy to pile on and say Carroll has lost his fastball, let's look instead at the defense Stanford's Toby Gerhart (178 yards, three touchdowns) ran over in a 55-21 Cardinal win.

Barring an absolute collapse by a few teams, USC will not win the Pac-10 title or play in a BCS bowl. When some other school finally clinches, it will break a string of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles for the Trojans. During that stretch, USC went 82-9 and 6-1 in BCS bowls. No other school in the BCS era can boast that kind of dominance.

Carroll famously told his players to "win forever," but in the age of 85 scholarships and a cable channel for every game, no program can dominate forever. Eventually, the players who didn't feel like waiting behind all the All-Americas at USC bolstered the strength of other programs. Eventually, the hotshot assistants left for head-coaching gigs. One of those former assistants, Steve Sarkisian, presaged the fall of Troy by leading his Washington team past the Trojans in September.

Maybe if Mark Sanchez had come back for another year, USC would still be in the Pac-10 hunt, but that only would have delayed the inevitable. USC was so good for so long that it forced the rest of the Pac-10 to get better. Oregon kept building on Mike Bellotti's blueprint. Mike Riley made Oregon State a consistent winner. After a disastrous stretch under Walt Harris, Stanford hired Jim Harbaugh and built him a $50,000 bathroom to keep him happy.

This was going to happen at some point. USC won't stay down long, though. Quarterback Matt Barkley, a true freshman, can only get better. And if he doesn't, he'll get usurped by one of the blue-chippers Carroll will doubtless keep signing. But for now, the balance of power in the Pac-10 has shifted.

The king is dead. Long live the new king (Harbaugh) and his $50,000 throne.

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