USC or Oregon?
It has been the question even before the season started, because honestly, these are the only two teams that have a realistic shot of winning the Pac-12 title. While every other BCS Conference has many teams to choose from, the conference out west only has two legitimate contenders.
But these two teams are not only conference contenders, they are also candidates to win the BCS National Championship and become one of the teams to snap the SEC winning streak of six straight championships.
I have been going back and forth between teams all offseason, and will likely continue to do so until these teams meet for a second time in the Pac-12 title game (Yes, because the November 3rd matchup is simply not enough for college football fans).
I recently said USC had the best chance to win a national championship this season, but now I'm sort of leaning towards the team in Eugene rather than the one in Barkley.
Here is why I think the Ducks are better suited to win this year's Pac-12 title.
Offense is Clicking Much Better
I absolutely love the offense of the USC Trojans, as I believe every key player on this unit has a chance to become a first-round NFL draft pick. But only two games into the season, the Trojans have not been as effective on the offensive side of the ball as I thought they would be.
I think it is fair to say that both opponents of USC and Oregon are about on the same level playing field, neither team has had a tougher schedule so far than the other. But while Oregon is moving the ball with ease, USC is stalling at times, leaving a cause for concern.
USC is averaging 18.5 first downs through the first two games, while Oregon is averaging 30.5. That's seventh-best in the country. The Trojans are also horrible on third-down conversions, picking up a first down on just 38 percent of their tries, while the Ducks are moving the chains over 50 percent of the time on third downs.
And due to a lack of conversions on third down, USC has gone for it nine times already on fourth down, which are the most in the entire country. The lack of moving the chains certainly has to be concerning, but there are also depth issues at the receiver position.
The Trojans have completed 49 passes so far this year, for 10 touchdowns. And although USC does have other reliable receivers, 37 of those completions and eight of those touchdown receptions have only gone to two guys (Robert Woods and Marqise Lee).
If USC is going to continue to struggle to move the chains, and be so predictable with the football, it is hard to envision them winning the Pac-12 title.
Defense Has Issues
Neither of the defenses has been absolutely spectacular, but Oregon has seemed to be the better of the two so far. Much like the offense of USC, the defense is also having a difficult time on third downs, as the Trojans are allowing opponents to convert over 45 percent of time. With Oregon, it is less than 22 percent.
And if you get into the red zone against USC, there is a great chance you will put seven on the board, as opponents have scored five touchdowns out of the seven trips inside the 20-yard line. Oregon has only given up four touchdowns out of nine trips.
Then you have to look at the secondary, as what was supposed to be the strength of this USC team has been a weakness so far. The game against Syracuse last week did give Trojan fans a slight scare, but it could have been much worse.
Can you possibly be any more open than this?
What about this?
Another corner getting beat in man coverage.
If things like this are happening against Syracuse, a basketball school, what is going to happen when Chip Kelly brings out the speedsters and a more talented offense?
Marcus Mariota Isn't Too Shabby Either
In the article I did a few weeks ago, I had given USC the edge because of quarterback Matt Barkley and his ability to take over games. But looking at Marcus Mariota, quarterback of Oregon, he is more than capable of making plays as well. Now, of course, he is not Barkley, but I do think he has the goods to lead the Ducks to another Pac-12 title.
As of right now, he is completing over 75 percent of his passes, which is almost eight percent higher than the USC quarterback. And although Chip Kelly seems to be easing him into the lineup, he is automatic when he needs to be—completing four of six passes in the red zone, three of which have gone for touchdowns.
If Mariota can continue the impressive work of not making mistakes and making the throws when called upon, I have no doubt the Ducks will be able to win this game—especially if he is throwing to wide open receivers all night long.