Oregon looks like the best team coming out of the Pac-12 and thus, the best shot for a Pac-12 team to play in the BCS Championship Game on January 7.
Everything points to an Oregon rout.
USC has played sporadically this year and its only real complete game was against the lowly Colorado Buffaloes. That's not much to hang your hat on.
Oregon is averaging over 53 points a game while USC is averaging 35 points per game. Oregon, except for one half against Washington State, has destroyed every team the second that quarterback Marcus Mariota took the first snap of the ball. USC has played well in most of its games' first two quarters, but let the pedal off the gas in its last two quarters.
USC's offense has sputtered with penalties and turnovers and its running game isn't scaring anyone. Oregon has run all over its opponents with blinding speed and a no-huddle offense.
The Ducks fans are brimming with confidence and USC fans are biting their nails. Sound familiar?
Last year, Oregon hosted USC, a 15-point underdog, in its noisy Autzen Stadium. USC ended up beating Oregon 38-35. The Ducks would go on to recover and win the Pac-12, but USC, had it been eligible for postseason play, would have had the opportunity to play the Ducks again for the Pac-12 Championship.
And that encapsulates what the game this Saturday means for USC. The Trojans are statistically out of the BCS Championship Game, but they can play for the Rose Bowl and play the spoiler role against the Ducks.
USC can also send a message to Oregon that by winning back-to-back games, USC could have won the Pac-12 Championship last year, had it been eligible.
Emotional factors can become that elephant in the room in high-profile games. The No. 4 Ducks haven't been challenged by anyone since their last loss. Against USC. When the Ducks were ranked No. 4. The parallels are uncanny.
The Trojans have been relegated to spectator for the last two years due to NCAA-imposed sanctions. Their long wait is finally over and they aren't just going to roll over to the Ducks. In fact, they may score the first points of the game, which will make the Coliseum a very noisy place.
Momentum is extremely important in this game and Lane Kiffin has to strike first—if USC wins the coin toss, it won't defer receiving the ball to the second half. The Trojans will choose to receive the kickoff, score quickly and make Oregon play catch up.
In USC's eyes, the Ducks are a Johnny-come-lately whose rise to prominence came about when USC was serving out its postseason bans. That's not true, of course, as Oregon has made a consistent and steady climb in the Pac-12 starting in the Mike Bellotti era. But USC has a more storied history behind its football program and it's not about to let some fashion-conscious team come into its house and embarrass the school.
That's the mindset USC has to take. Respect Oregon, but don't fear Oregon.
In the meantime, the Ducks are an 8.5-point favorite per Vegas Insider. Las Vegas knows something.
Perhaps the oddsmakers know that an animal tends to fight more fiercely when it's cornered.
Right now, USC is cornered. It's Rose Bowl or bust.
And that's worth fighting for.