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Fall-out sheltered

So what was more shocking: USC’s losing to Stanford on Saturday in maybe the biggest upset in college football history, or the Trojans’ dropping to only No. 7 Sunday in the USA Today coaches’ and Harris polls?

The sky is falling . . . no, it’s not?

Our season is ruined . . . it’s just getting started?

We couldn’t beat lousy Stanford . . . we can still win the lousy national title?

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Just as USC should not have listened to vendors who told the Trojans how good they were -- writers, actors, Stanford head coaches, mailmen -- they need to also ignore the adrenaline-addled experts who knee-jerk claimed their season was lost.

Lee Corso of headdress-wearing ESPN fame said Saturday night USC could not possibly recover from its loss to Stanford.

Question: Would winning the Bowl Championship Series national title be considered recovery?

USC fans must be more torn up today than their betting slips.

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How do they react to the loss to the lowly Lelands?

What should they think?

Which way is my math class?

Consider this the straight dope and plug in the template for possible USC football reclamation:

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Two weeks ago, Oklahoma blew a 24-7 lead at Colorado, a team that went 2-10 last year with a loss to Montana State.

Oklahoma dropped from No. 3 to No. 10 in the polls.

Sunday, about 24 hours after a bounce-back win over Texas, Oklahoma climbed back to No. 5.

Sometimes you throw up your hands and surrender to a lower power, sort of like UCLA did against Notre Dame.

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The college football season is an organic, breathing, living thing. It changes shape from week to week. It is more malleable than Silly Putty.

What was true a month ago is not true now.

Michigan was eliminated from national-title consideration Sept. 1 when it dropped from No. 5 to unranked after a loss to Appalachian State.

It was over for UCLA when the heavily favored Bruins lost at Utah on Sept. 15.

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USC’s loss to Stanford, in terms of point spreads, was worse than either of those debacle defeats.

That was then; this is “wow.”

The season is not over for USC -- it’s not even fourth and 20.

Despite needing air sickness bags to watch the Stanford game tape, USC pulled a Houdini in terms of weekend escapes.

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Associated Press voters, those scurrilous scribes, were much tougher on the Trojans, knocking them down eight poll spots, from No. 2 to No. 10.

But the AP poll is no longer part of the BCS standings formula that will determine the teams that will play in the Jan. 7 championship game in New Orleans.

Sometimes, in college football, there is just no easy, sausage-making way to explain things.

The voting coaches, perhaps, provided USC with a soft landing because all coaches have been on the short end of an upset. Maybe they feel Pete Carroll’s pain.

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The Harris index once had a voter who ran a doughnut shop, so who knows what those people are thinking?

Maybe voters cut USC slack for now having lost only five games since 2002 by a total of 13 points. The Master Coaches poll, composed of retired whistle-blowers, demoted USC only to No. 6.

Sometimes, in the poll business, you just don’t know what to do with a team and finding the punishment to fit the field crime can depend on what day it is.

In 2003, No. 1 Oklahoma was blown out in the Big 12 Conference championship game by Kansas State yet fell to only No. 3 in the polls and stayed at No. 1 in the BCS standings.

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Why? Because the Kansas State loss was Oklahoma’s first of the season and everyone else below No. 3 had at least two losses.

Oklahoma was protected, not by a glass ceiling, but by a glass bottom.

In September 2003, of course, USC lost in triple overtime at Cal.

The subhead on The Times’ story the next day said the loss “could cripple national-title bid.”

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USC recovered to win the AP national title.

Last year, after an Oct. 28 loss at Oregon State, the Trojans fell from No. 3 to No. 9 in the AP poll but rallied to the point they would have played Ohio State for the national title had they beaten UCLA.

In other words, USC fans, you can return those Groucho Marx masks you bought Sunday from Disguises R Us.

For no good reason, the Stanford loss did not hurt as much as USC thought it would late Saturday night.

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The six teams ahead of USC in the BCS polls all have issues.

No. 1 Louisiana State still has to play at Kentucky and at Alabama and faces a possible rematch against Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game.

No. 2 Cal has to play at UCLA and at Arizona State. It has to beat USC in Berkeley on Nov. 10 and then closes the year at, gulp, mighty Stanford.

No. 4 Boston College has road games at Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Clemson. It still has to play Florida State and possibly in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

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Oklahoma and South Florida still have their share of tee-knockers. The Sooners play fast-rising Missouri next week in Norman. South Florida, this year’s Sunshine State surprise, might have the easiest road to undefeated, but could the Bulls hold off a one-loss USC team that had beaten Cal and Oregon?

There are still more questions than answers, and the weather forecast is “probable” for more Saturday eight-clap thunderclaps.

How can anybody explain 2007 so far? Nine of the schools in this year’s preseason AP top 10 have already lost; three have lost twice and one has lost three times. The cumulative record of the preseason top 10 is 46-14. Six of the 10 teams are no longer in the top 10. Two national-title contenders, Michigan and Louisville, are no longer ranked in the top 25.

So yes, USC can recover from a stupefying Stanford setback to win the national title.

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If it happens, though, we wouldn’t recommend ever bragging about it in Palo Alto.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

--

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Play it forward

Five things to consider in Week 7 of the college football season:

1UCLA versus bye. The Bruins face their biggest challenge of the season this week: themselves. UCLA is 3-0 in Pac-10 play, 0-2 against Utah and Notre Dame, and now needs to figure out a Plan B at quarterback if Plan O (Ben Olson) isn’t ready for Plan C (Cal).

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2The case for Chase. Missouri, led by quarterback Chase Daniel, is ranked No. 11 as it heads to Norman to take on No. 6 Oklahoma. Missouri has posted consecutive 5-0 starts for the first time in school history but last year sputtered to an 8-5 finish.

3Everyone suspected Louisville at Cincinnati might have national implications, but who knew the implications would be for the Bearcats? Louisville is 3-3 after being ranked No. 10 in the preseason, and No. 15 Cincinnati is a surprising 6-0 after Saturday’s Big East win against Rutgers.

4Kentucky can further complicate this season’s national title picture if it can pull off a home upset this weekend against No. 1 Louisiana State. Kentucky is coming off a road loss at South Carolina, and after LSU the Wildcats have to face Florida.

5It could be back to the real world for Stanford if the Cardinal carries the post-USC party too far into preparations for incoming Texas Christian. How many times have you seen a team pull off a huge upset and then come out flat the next week?

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-- Chris Dufresne


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