BERKELEY — University of California football fans are lucky in the sense there is no more beautiful venue to get ear-holed than Memorial Stadium.
After all, you could be lousy and freezing.
Losing always goes down easier with a view of San Francisco and a vintage Pinot Noir. That is what makes difficult any fruitful evaluation of USC’s 62-28 stomp-walk over Cal on Saturday.
USC appears tenfold improved and energized under interim Coach Ed Orgeron, but what does a win over Cal prove? It’s like assessing Alabama after it plays Chattanooga.
Nelson Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns, and why-in-the-world was Lane Kiffin not playing Javorius Allen, who averaged 22.5 yards in six carries?
Kiffin could have been fired on these grounds alone after Allen, a week after his breakout at Oregon State, ripped through Cal for 135 yards, including touchdown runs of 43 and 79 yards, and took a short pass 57 yards for another score.
“Just saving the best for last, baby,” Orgeron said.
A convincing win against 1-9 Cal — and that win was over Portland State — is no reason to start boasting. The Bears have been decimated by injuries, with at least nine significant players knocked out of the lineup.
First-year Coach Sonny Dykes turned 44 Saturday and USC blew out his candles.
The litmus test for USC comes this Saturday in Los Angeles against the other Bay Area team involved in “The Big Game.”
USC was ready for Cal, but is it ready for Stanford?
“We all know what’s coming up,” Orgeron said.
After a slow start and a 4 a.m. coaching change, USC (7-3) is hurtling toward “others receiving votes” in the major polls. The Trojans may not crack the Bowl Championship Series top 25 any day soon, but it is No. 24 in one of the six computers (Kenneth Massey).
Stanford, conversely, will wake up Monday as the top-five power USC used to be — though Trojans players are still too proud to concede it.
“Never,” junior tight end Xavier Grimble grumbled. “We’re still USC.”
Yes, in name and location.
Yet, this is the week USC could claim identity theft in the Pac-12 Conference, as Stanford continues to dominate the league with the same macho mantra that put USC on the football map.
Tyler Gaffney’s 45-carry effort in Stanford’s win over Oregon on Thursday was brute-strength reminiscent of USC’s Ricky Bell in the 1970s.
Stanford Coach David Shaw could have resurrected the response John McKay gave when asked if he worried about giving a football to his tailback too many times. “It’s not heavy,” McKay would quip.
Stanford’s ideology confiscation began with Jim Harbaugh and has continued with Shaw.
Stanford has taken advantage of USC probation by stealing USC’s nameplate.
Stanford is 15-0 against California teams since 2009. The Cardinal’s last in-state loss was 34-28 to Cal on Nov. 21, 2009.
Trojans receiver Marqise Lee refuses to cede USC’s identity to Palo Alto or anyone. “They’re just doing a good job,” he said.
Yet, Stanford is the Pac-12 team now pounding opponents into the trainer’s room.
“They’re going to run downhill on you,” senior linebacker Devon Kennard said.
USC players were not supposed to look ahead to next week before taking care of Saturday’s business. But Orgeron put no restrictions on players watching Oregon-Stanford.
USC players did watch. Quarterback Cody Kessler and roommates Agholor and offensive lineman Max Tuerk took mental notes. “We were scheming the whole time,” Kessler said.
USC can’t fully reclaim what it once was, and once had, until it returns to its full allotment of scholarships.
Stanford can continue to poach players USC used to be able to secure with a handshake.
Stanford took sophomore tackle Kyle Murphy right from under USC’s Orange County nose and pilfered Arizona lineman Andrus Peat, all 6 feet 7 and 312 pounds of him.
USC did hold onto Tuerk from that class of linemen but there was a time USC would have signed all three.
If a team’s toughness starts at the top, though, USC has definitely upgraded with Orgeron over Kiffin.
“Our head coach is the most physical human being in the universe,” junior defensive end George Uko said. “I think we’ll be all right.”
We’ll find out at the Coliseum, where they will be checking IDs at the door.