The rest of 2015 will determine if the better team won in the LA Coliseum Saturday. However, anyone who watched Stanford's 41-31 win knows the more talented team did not.
USC is the 5th most talented team in the country according to SB Nation's 4 year recruiting rankings. Stanford? You can find them all the way down at 21, right ahead of Virginia Tech.
Cody Kessler is arguably the best quarterback in the country. USC has more running back depth than anyone since Alabama had Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, and Kenyon Drake, and a WR core so deep that Adoree Jackson, a man with Charles Woodson type talent, can barely see the field on offense.
Yet the Stanford Cardinal were more prepared and a better all-around football team.
Kevin Hogan, who looked like a backup high-school quarterback against Northwestern, went 18-23 with 2 touchdowns. The Cardinal dominated time-of-possession at almost a 2:1 clip and punted twice. David Shaw made Steve Sarkisian look as bad as Meek Mill after his beef with Drake.
Saturday was yet another chapter in a disturbing trend with Coach Sark's career. His teams underachieve. Don't believe me? Let's do some simple math. If a coach sends 26 players to the NFL in 7 seasons, how many games over .500 should he be?
The answer shouldn't be 11, but that's what we have with Sark. He has an overall record of 45-34 (less than 2 games over .500 per season) and has never won his division, let alone the Pac 12. He has coached and recruited plenty of talent, but it hasn't resulted in wins.
See: Jake Locker.
Locker, and say what you will about his NFL production, was a talented college player who was drafted 8th overall in the NFL draft. He may never have developed into Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but when healthy he was on par with Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, or Alex Smith. Those players have led their teams to the NFL playoffs. But more importantly for this conversation, their teams dominated college football. Dalton went undefeated his final season. Alex Smith did too. Palmer? His senior year he led the Trojans to an Orange Bowl win while hoisting the Heisman Trophy.
Jake Locker went 7-6.
For all the fanfare Sark received for rebuilding the Washington program, he never finished better than 5-4 in the Pac 12. Yes, he took over a winless program. But moving from 0 wins to a .500 club can mostly be attributed as a return to the mean. Power 5 programs can basically add 3 wins before the season starts from their non-conference schedule. So what are we really talking about?
We're talking about an average coach.
USC brought him on to be the second coming of Pete Carroll. He coached Matt Leinart in 2005 and was there for multiple Rose Bowls and first round draft picks. He was supposed to be the answer after the failed Lane Kiffin experiment. But the only progress USC has seen under his brief tenure is the end of the Reggie Bush sanctions.
USC is a program where you don't need an elite coach to win 9-10 games. They're a private school with wealthy alumni, located in fertile recruiting grounds, and have a pedigree that can only be matched by the Notre Dames and Alabamas of the college football world. Along with Texas and Florida, USC has the most built in advantages of any program in the country.
Sark, despite his flaws, can have success at USC. He is a terrific recruiter with an eye for speed. But when we watch a game like we saw against Stanford, it becomes abundantly clear that these aren't the Pete Carroll days. He isn't Pete Carroll. He is just an average coach in a great situation.
Hopefully average is enough.