Loss temporary detour in USC ascent

LOS ANGELES -- USC lost on Saturday in a game that many said would return USC to "elite status" if the Trojans could pull out a victory. While the Trojans -- who still need a win against a legitimate top-10 team to truly be back in the "elite" conversation -- fell, the atmosphere at the Coliseum was electric on Saturday night, and the performance by this young, gutty team made a statement that USC's return isn't very far away.

For two consecutive weeks, USC's team and its staff has risen to the occasion with tremendous preparation, game planning, and execution. Yes, USC lost, and Stanford celebrated a big win that could potentially lead it to the national championship game, a Heisman Trophy, and all that goes with that achievement. But at the end of the night, I was struck by the trajectory of the two programs on the field.

Stanford is at its peak, led by a once-in-a-generation quarterback for its program. It has juniors and seniors across the starting lineup. It certainly feels like this is the year the Cardinal will have their shot, and they better make the most of it. Maintaining this level of play when Luck heads to the NFL and the rest of the underclassmen move up will be a major challenge for Stanford.