When Nickell Robey picked off Andrew Luck at the Stanford 33-yard line and ran the other way for a touchdown with just over three minutes left in regulation Saturday, it looked like a pretty clear sign that a tide had turned for the Trojans.
It looked like USC was going to beat the Cardinal for the first time in three years. But to some in and around the program, it also looked like the Trojans were starting to shake off some recent negativity.
At least, that's what USC head coach Lane Kiffin said after the fact.
"I really felt like that was the turn," Kiffin said on Sunday, reflecting on the outcome in his day-after conference call with reporters. "Those dark clouds that had started to move Saturday (against Notre Dame), there were a lot more of them moving then."
Kiffin has referenced these "dark clouds" on more than one occasion during his 20-plus month tenure at USC. Just two weeks ago, leading up to the Notre Dame game, he said such a cloud was "obvious" after the Trojans got to 5-1 and stayed out of the national top-25 rankings.
"We discussed that, the negativity around us," he said four days before USC upset the Irish on the road in South Bend. "Going on the road and winning by 21 points -- and the first 5-1 team not to be ranked in the history of USC -- I just think it’s the dark cloud over us."
Then, after USC beat Notre Dame, he called it his biggest win in charge of the team and made multiple references to a potential program-shifting win, although he didn't specifically term it a cloud-mover.
But the Trojans got back into the top 25, and a win against Stanford would likely have moved them into the top half of the top 25.
Of course, USC didn't win Saturday. Luck led Stanford to a touchdown on the ensuing drive, the Trojans couldn't match it in regulation and USC fumbled into the end zone in the third overtime. The Cardinal won one of the year's most dramatic games, 56-48.
So what does that mean for the clouds? Did they still move despite the loss?
To continue with Kiffin's analogy: Sometimes occasional patches of sunlight can peek through a cloudy morning and it feels like it actually might turn out to be a hot day (especially in Southern California). Sometimes it stays cold and cloudy, but sometimes it does indeed warm up.
We're in one of those patches right now. It's fairly sunny outside, but clouds still linger. It could go either way from here.
We'll have a better sense at the end of this season what USC's long-term forecast will be.