As expected, USC cruised past Colorado to earn its fourth consecutive victory and now must turn its attention to Arizona in the first game of a tricky stretch run for the Trojans. The Wildcats ended a three-game losing streak on Saturday by crushing Washington.
While the Trojans checked in at No. 9 in the latest BCS standings, two games against teams currently ranked inside the top five leaves them an opportunity to make a big jump before season's end. They have to take care of Arizona first, though.
The Wildcats are better than their 4-3 record would indicate. All three of their losses came against ranked opponents and they have a quality win over Oklahoma State. USC must be prepared to stop their high-powered passing attack.
It should be a Pac-12 shootout in Arizona. Here's all the important information for Saturday's clash followed by a game preview and prediction.
Where: Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.
When: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Watch: ABC or ESPN2 and ESPN3.com
Listen: KSPN 710 AM (USC) or KCUB 1290 AM (Arizona)
Betting Line: USC -6.5 (Vegas Insider)
Injury Report (via USA Today)
USC: Kevon Seymour (questionable, undisclosed)
Arizona: Johnny Jackson (questionable, ankle), Terrence Miller (questionable, shoulder), Kyle Quinn (questionable, ankle) and Jared Tevis (questionable, ankle)
Key Storyline: Will USC overlook Arizona?
This game will be a terrific test for USC. Going on the road to face a potent Arizona squad the week before the biggest game of the season will test the mental toughness of the Trojans. If they are looking ahead, the Wildcats are going to pull off the upset.
It would be easy to fall into that trap. Arizona isn't ranked and has lost three of its last four games. So it's important for senior leaders like quarterback Matt Barkley to step up and make sure everybody is focused on the task at hand, not next week's game.
Knowing USC's situation, Arizona must press the issue right, taking chances on both sides of the ball with hopes of building some momentum. Should the Wildcats take an early lead, the upset alert sirens will start going off.
It's a critical game for the Trojans. Although a victory wouldn't move them up the rankings unless a couple teams ahead of them fall, a loss would cause their ranking to plummet and make those marquee games on the horizon far less important.
USC is currently third in terms of teams with one loss. Its goal should be getting to the top of that heap while hoping the number of undefeated teams slowly but surely drops before season's end. The Trojans are definitely still in the mix.
The Wildcats would have a chance to crack the Top 25 with a victory, giving them plenty to play for as well. They don't have enough big games left to make a significant run, but having an impact on the BCS race by upending USC would be a big statement.
What They Are Saying
"That's a huge part of it," Kiffin said. "That's why we do a lot of the stuff we do.
"It's a pain to prepare for. You've got to waste time preparing for that instead of spending time on offense and defense. Marqise in the wildcat; now you've got to have a plan for that."
John Marshall of the Associated Press reports Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez thinks his team is coming off its most complete performance of the season against Washington.
"We gave great effort in all three phases for all four quarters, and that’s the first time we've done that all year," Rodriguez said. "We played really hard and put it all together."
USC Player To Watch: Marqise Lee
Arizona's defense ranks 11th in the conference in passing yards allowed at more than 290 per game, ahead of only lowly Colorado. If the Trojans are going to avoid an upset, they need to exploit that weakness in the defensive backfield.
It starts with Lee, who has already tallied 60 catches for 784 yards and eight touchdowns. The sophomore just had his fourth 100-yard performance of the season and has made at least six catches in all but one game. He's a constant threat.
The presence of Robert Woods, USC's other dominant receiver, certainly helps Lee's cause by keeping the secondary spread thin. But his ability to separate is the biggest key and he should be able to do it again this week.
Arizona Player To Watch: Ka'Deem Carey
While there will be plenty of talk about Arizona's passing game throughout the week—and rightfully so—an upset won't be possible unless Carey is able to provide some semblance of balance on offense. A one-dimensional attack won't beat USC.
The sophomore rusher is having a tremendous season. Carey is averaging more than five yards per carry and has already found the end zone 11 times. He's also a factor in the passing game, catching 22 passes for 222 yards.
Establishing the running game as something the Trojans' defense must worry about will open up passing lanes for Matt Scott. USC should expect plenty of runs and play-action passes early as Arizona's way of setting the tone.
Key Matchup: USC secondary vs. Matt Scott
The Trojans have done a nice job against the pass throughout the season. They are giving up less than 225 passing yards per game and have intercepted 14 passes while giving up just nine touchdowns through the air.
Facing Scott and Co. is a tougher test, though. Arizona's passing attack, which ranks fifth in the nation, features eight different players with at least 13 catches. Keep tabs on all of those different weapons will be a challenge for USC.
The Trojans don't have to completely shut down Scott in order to win, but they can't let him move the ball down the field on every drive, either. The game will be decided by which secondary is able to make more key stops in the second half.
USC 38, Arizona 31