What statement will USC, Oregon make?

October, 4, 2008
10/04/08
7:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Oregon should feel right at home tonight. It's cloudy and cool (68 degrees) with a chance of showers. Just like it is much of the year in Eugene.

  

The winner tonight between No. 9 USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-10) and No. 23 Oregon (4-1, 2-0), however, figures to feel pretty sunny. That team will walk away as the Pac-10 front-runner, though California, a future foe for both, might have something to say about that.

Oregon does boast a 5-3 record in its last eight meetings against the Trojans, including a 24-17 win last year.

The last time the Ducks visited the Coliseum in 2006, though, they got thudded 35-10. The Trojans were coming off a loss to Oregon State then, too. The last time USC coach Pete Carroll lost consecutive games against Pac-10 foes?

Never.

He's also 7-0 against conference teams that beat him the year before, delivering retribution by a 248-114 count. A team hasn't won two in a row against the the Trojans since 2001-02 (Kansas State), Carroll's first two seasons at Troy. Carroll's first season, when USC finished 6-6, is also the last time the Trojans lost consecutive games.

USC is riding a 25-game winning streak in the Coliseum.

And the Oregon programs haven't swept USC since 1957.

So, in other words, there are plenty of trends and factoids that suggest USC will make a statement to the nation tonight that it is premature to count the Trojans out of the national title hunt.

That said, if you saw Oregon State slice and dice the USC defense and mostly frustrate the Trojans offense, there's reason to believe Oregon isn't just here to be a victim. The Beavers ran all over the vaunted Trojan defense. Oregon is ranked No. 4 in the nation with 309 yards rushing per game and has scored a nation-leading 21 rushing touchdowns.

You want offense? Oregon has scored at least 32 points in every game this season and has eclipsed 60 points twice. That's even with its well-documented quarterback woes -- the Ducks are encouraged they will be able to play their No. 3 quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, after dipping as far as No. 5 on the depth chart.

Moreover, the Ducks defense, on paper, looks superior to an Oregon State unit that had been breaking in an entirely new front-seven. Oregon's defensive scheme is simple: Take away the run and force teams to pass into a talented, experienced secondary.

Oregon gives up passing yards, but it also makes plays (five interceptions).

Of course, that secondary got whipped in a 37-32 home loss to Boise State.

So can USC quarterback Mark Sanchez match Broncos redshirt freshman Kellen Moore, who completed 24 of 36 for 386 yards and three touchdowns against that touted secondary inside fearsome Autzen Stadium? This game should give us a measure of Sanchez and his ability to lead a team back from adversity. And there's a level of intrigue based on which Trojans tailback will start and play the most after Joe McKnight struggled so badly at Oregon State.

Some USC lineup changes are already known: Alex Parson steps in at offensive guard for the injured Zach Heberer. Nose tackle Averell Spicer and defensive end Everson Griffen were both demoted for undisciplined and poor play against Oregon State, with Christian Tupou and Clay Matthews earning promotions.

Tupou's brother, Fenuki, is the Ducks starting offensive tackle. Matthews brother, Casey, is a backup linebacker for the Ducks.

And, of course, All-American middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is out with a sprained knee, with Brian Cushing moving over into his spot from outside linebacker, with sophomore Michael Morgan stepping in for Cushing.

A few moments ago, the Trojans did their traditional swagger to midfield for their pregame gathering. No idea what was said, but I'm assuming the message was heard better than it was in Corvallis nine days ago.

We shall see.

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