Pac-10 turning points of the decade

Stanford football never really experienced sustained failure until the 2000's: seven straight losing seasons, five straight Big Game losses and countless weeks on ESPN's Bottom 10 poll. But look past the rubble, for the previous decade offers two nuggets of significance.

The Cardinal dealt each of its Los Angeles rivals a loss so punishing, the effects linger to this day. One can argue that USC and UCLA have yet to recover.

The proof, part one: The next day's Orange County Register referred to Stanford's 55-21 clock-cleaning of the Trojans in 2009 as "not only marking the end of an era for USC, but the end of an aura." Even before Pete Carroll escaped to the NFL and the NCAA probation hammer dropped, it was clear the Trojans' long run of dominance was over.

The proof, part two: Do you remember the Bruins starting the year 6-0, climbing to No. 3 in the BCS rankings and boasting a Heisman front-runner? If all that rings a bell, then surely you recall a late-October Saturday in 2001. Once the No. 20 Cardinal secured a 38-28 upset, everything UCLA had built soon unraveled faster than Jim Harrick's reputation.

When an entire program's direction changes that drastically, the turning points deserve notice. The impact games – where one side either breaks through or begins a steep fall – deserve notice.

Year: 2009
The outcome: Stanford 55, USC 21
The storyline: The No. 9 Trojans, despite two conference losses -- including a blowout at the hands of Oregon, are still entrenched among college football's elite. They hope to again reach a BCS bowl and win 11 games and at least a share of the conference title.
The turning points: Those above streaks, all of which dated back to 2002, came to a resounding end. One L.A. newspaper account described the final score as "UFO: An Unbelievably Foreign Outcome." Stanford rushed for 325 yards, converted 8-of-11 third downs and piled on four fourth-quarter touchdowns. Never in USC's illustrious history has an opponent scored as many points. For ‘SC, things would soon get much worse.

Year: 2002
The outcome: Cal 46, Michigan State 22
The storyline: The No. 15 Spartans have little reason to fear their guests. Cal is six years removed from its last national ranking and hasn't finished above .500 in nine years. New coach Jeff Tedford inherits a team with a 27-game road losing streak against top-15 opponents.
The turning points: It didn't take long for Tedford to create the expectations that might soon bring him down. The Bears capture a bowl game victory the next year, before coming within a whisker of a BCS berth by 2004. They'd reel off eight straight winning seasons, staying power unseen for Cal football in 50 years.

Year: 2001
The outcome: Stanford 38, UCLA 28
The storyline: No running back in college football looks as dominant as Deshaun Foster. UCLA appears to have distanced itself from the infamous 1998 loss at Miami that cost them a perfect season. If they can manage wins in their final five games, the Bruins will reach the BCS title bout at the Rose Bowl.
The turning points: Between 1965 to 2002, UCLA never fired a head football coach. Rick Neuheisel may be the third to get dumped in less than a decade. In the wake of what the L.A. Daily News dubbed a "Rose Kill," Bob Toledo's inability to get his team to recover leads to his demise. The shaken Bruins begin a four-game losing streak after they turn the ball over five times and spot Stanford a 31-7 lead. They go the entire decade without a conference title – a first since the 1930's.

Year: 1999
The outcome: Oregon State 55, UCLA 7
The storyline: The Beavers find themselves in a familiar place: the Pac-10 cellar. They're 29 years and counting without a winning season. UCLA has only lost once in Corvallis since 1978. Jonathan Smith (405 passing yards a week earlier against Stanford) and Ken Simonton (six straight 100-yard rushing games) lead a potent Oregon State attack.
The turning points: "On surreal scale," Jon Wilner wrote at the time, "this loss rivals UCLA's 66-3 victory over Texas two years ago." Once that shock wore off, the Pac-10 came to realize the Beavers were good – and here to stay. The victory ignited Oregon State on a four-game winning streak, which led to an Oahu Bowl berth, which in turn was a prelude to the next year's Fiesta Bowl flogging of Notre Dame. The bark-eaters have missed the postseason just three times since.

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