- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- In August, the thought was USC-Oregon and LSU-Alabama would give the college football nation an epic Nov. 3 weekend featuring a simultaneous matchup of four unbeaten, top-five teams in college football's two best conferences. It didn't quite work out like that.
Alabama and Oregon held serve, and LSU is fifth in the BCS rankings, the top-ranked one-loss team. But USC has flopped, losing a pair of games and often playing sloppy and inconsistent football.
USC is last in the nation in penalties, and it gave away five turnovers in a loss at Arizona last weekend. That's not what anyone expected from a team that welcomed back 19 starters from a 10-2 team.
"Everybody is really disappointed in Saturday," USC quarterback Matt Barkley said this week. "There were so many times when we could win the game, and we really screwed up time and time again."
And yet, Barkley adds, there is still plenty for the Trojans to play for. While the national title is no longer in play, the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl are respectable consolation prizes.
Barkley and the Trojans, if they play smart, efficient football, have the talent to beat the Ducks. Heck, they have the talent to beat anyone.
The question is whether it all comes together this evening.
On the other side of the football, is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a redshirt freshman. He's passed every test this season with flying colors, mostly because no team has really tested the Ducks, who have yet to play a game with any second-half intrigue. It's fair to wonder how he might react in front of 94,000 fans in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
After playing a soft early schedule, Oregon hopes to announce itself as a full-on national title contender, the best team to play Alabama or the eventual SEC champion. USC, which dumped the Ducks' national title hopes a year ago, is playing the role of spoiler, trying to position itself for the South Division title.
That would mean a spot in the Pac-12 title game, and perhaps in a rematch against Oregon, with the Rose Bowl on the line.
While this game no longer lusters, it certainly will be revealing. Or unmasking.