For a moment, it looked like another bad night for the Pac-10, with another conference bowl game falling into a familiar, indefensible pattern: fast start, disaster thereafter.
But USC, a team that has been all over the place this season, figured out that a football game lasts longer than the early moments of the first quarter and managed to hold on to beat a scrappy Boston College squad 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl.
The Pac-10 thereby improves to 1-2 in the bowl season.
And USC gets to walk away from its season with a 9-4 record, which is not so bad anywhere else outside Heritage Hall.
How the game was won: USC's defense, terrible in the second quarter, put the clamps down, pitching a second-half shutout, while quarterback Matt Barkley reversed a late-season slide by leaning on receiver Damian Williams and fullback Stanley Havili to make big plays.
Turning point: With 13 minutes left in the game, and USC only leading 17-13, cornerback Shareece Wright, who was academically ineligible until the bowl season, grabbed an interception at midfield. On the next play, Barkley found Williams deep over the middle for 48 yards to the Eagles 1-yard line. Wright made the catch despite being surrounded by three defenders. A play later, Barkley snuck in for the touchdown and the final margin.
Stat of the game: Zero. That's how many points the Eagles scored in the second half after they dominated the second quarter and scored all 13 of their points.
Player of the game: Williams was the best player on the field catching 12 passes for 189 yards, though one catch on the sideline -- a 38 yarder that set up the Trojans second touchdown -- was curiously ruled in bounds when, golly, it sure didn't look that way (someone feel free to explain that one to me).
Unsung hero of the game: USC fullback Havili always seems to catch opposing defenses off-guard. Havili scored the Trojans first two touchdowns, the first when he transformed a short dump from Barkley into a 53-yard touchdown.
What it means: The Trojans' worst season since 2001 ends on a high note, despite speculation that indifference and off-field turmoil would combine to produce a flat performance. It means the Trojans head into the off-season with a modicum of positive momentum. And it wasn't hard to see the promise of some of USC's young players, particularly Barkley. The USC dynasty done? Maybe. Or maybe not. We'll see in 2010.