The problem with losing to USD: The Gophers weren't ready to play.

The problem with losing to USC: The Gophers were ready as they'll ever be.

Coach Brew's crew played well Saturday, and still needed a garbage-time touchdown to lose 32-21 to a team that thinks extra points are as expendable as toothpicks, and penalties are a good way to get your name mentioned on TV.

"Losing," said quarterback Adam Weber, "is getting old."

Losing, at this point in Tim Brewster's tenure, is a rite of fall.

Not that this program would necessarily look much different if the guy on the other sideline had landed in Dinkytown.

We are an either/or society. Republican or Democrat. Coke or Pepsi. Seinfeld or Newman. Milli or Vanilli.

We engage in debates as if there is always one right and one wrong answer, when sometimes the correct answer is "none of the above."

When Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi sought Glen Mason's replacement, he debated current USC coach Lane Kiffin and Brewster. Both recruited well for elite programs -- Kiffin for USC and Brewster for Texas. Both believe they can talk a Minnesotan into buying snow in the winter.

Today, we have to admit that Maturi didn't leave himself with much of a choice.

Kiffin, spurned in his efforts to return to his Minnesota roots, took over a talented roster and has yet to dominate an overmatched opponent: Hawaii, Virginia or our downtrodden Gophs.

Under Kiffin, USC entered the game with the most penalty yards of any team in big-time college football. Under Kiffin, Matt Barkley, the quarterback everybody wanted, looked about as efficient as Weber-circa-Jedd Fisch.

Kiffin's problem is that he has yet to prove himself as a head coach, and now he has to prove himself in a program facing immense expectations and NCAA penalties.

Brewster's problem is that he is now three games into his fourth season, and he has yet to win anything that can be described as a big game.

For most programs, the nonconference schedule is designed to fatten records and wallets. For the Gophers, the nonconference schedule seems to be designed to empty the till of expectations.

The Gophs are 1-2. They've beaten a Middle Tennessee team lacking its star quarterback, lost to a South Dakota team that had just lost by 31 points to Central Florida, and lost to a USC team that had trouble with Hawaii's offense and Virginia's defense.

If Middle Tennessee State quarterback Dwight Dasher hadn't broken NCAA rules, the Gophs would be 0-3 right now and facing their worst season since Brewster went 1-11 in 2007.

At 1-2, this is a big week for Coach Brew. On Saturday, he may face the only remaining opponent against which his team should be favored -- Northern Illinois, which lost by six points to Illinois on Saturday.

The Gophers might want to take this opportunity to feel confident. It may be their last chance.

After this week, the Big Ten schedule commences, and their best chances for victory might be against rising Northwestern and foundering Illinois.

My understanding is that Coach Brew needs to reach seven or eight victories to keep his job. It's hard to see him surpassing four.

An upset against a depleted USC team would have been good for PR and appearances, would have added some bark to Brewster's sound bites.

But the Gophers didn't really come close. Their run-to-run-the-clock strategy shortened the game, but it didn't shorten the odds.

After the final gun, Kiffin and Brewster met at midfield and executed the quickest handshake since Bill Belichick dissed Eric Mangini.

But who was dissing whom?

And which guy would you want on your sideline?

Kiffin, who has angered just about everyone in college football other than his father and employee, Monte?

Or Coach Brew, who will have trouble holding a job that Kiffin wouldn't take today if you threw in 10,000 lakes and a really good set of snow tires?

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib.