Game: No. 4 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 17 USC Trojans
Where: Los Angeles, CA.
When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. ET
In Week 9 of the college football season, the USC Trojans face the Oregon Ducks in what was supposed to be the game of the year in the PAC-12.
That is no longer the case.
However, this game still has huge BCS National Championship indications for the Ducks, who cannot seem to break into the Top 2 in the BCS rankings.
This weekend, the Ducks will try to avenge a 2011 loss at Autzen Stadium to the Trojans that effectively knocked them out of the championship race.
At a perfect 8-0, the Oregon Ducks have easily been the most exciting team to watch so far this season. OU currently leads the country with 53.4 points per game and has a 34-point average margin of victory. Both these numbers would be tremendously higher if they didn’t let off the gas with huge leads in the second half of games.
On the other hand, the Trojans are coming off a heart-wrenching loss on the road, in which they allowed two 100-yard rushers and a fourth-quarter comeback to the Arizona Wildcats. After beginning the year as the preseason No. 2 in the AP Poll, USC has now fallen to No. 17 in the BCS and is out of the championship hunt.
Up 28-13 in the third quarter, the Trojans allowed Matt Scott and the Wildcats to score 26 unanswered points to take a 39-28 lead. This lead proved insurmountable, and the Trojans fell to 6-2 on the season.
Discipline once again plagued the Trojans, who finished the game with 13 penalties for 117 yards. USC’s 82 penalties through eight games is 20-percent higher than any other team in the FBS, with the next team sitting at 68 flags.
According to gifted USC safety T.J. McDonald, however, the Trojans have addressed the issues at hand and are working towards a much more well-mannered front: "We represent a lot of people out there on the field," McDonald said. "The players that came before us, all the people that are watching us. We don't want to display an undisciplined team."
If the Trojans can limit the stupid penalties Saturday, USC stands a better chance of knocking off the No. 4 Ducks than any other team left on Oregon’s schedule, including No. 14 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon State.
Offensively, USC can keep up with any team in the country.
Even though Matt Barkley has noticeably not lived up to his preseason hype, he still has two of college football’s premier weapons in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to pass to.
Last week against Arizona, Barkley and Lee connected 16 times for 345 yards and two touchdowns, as Lee became the PAC-12 all-time record holder in single-game receiving yards.
In anticipation of the game, many people have asked me how I think USC can upset Oregon when Arizona, who just beat the Trojans, got shut out 49-0 by Oregon.
First of all, I don’t think USC will win this game by any means. Oregon’s offense is clearly superior, and the USC defense is untamed and will be outmatched.
However, is an upset in the realm of possibility? Of course.
USC will be able to do what Arizona could not: score in the red zone. While the Wildcats rank 104th in the FBS in red-zone efficiency and failed to capitalize on six attempts against Oregon, the Trojans are converting on over 80 percent of their red-zone chances and know how to punch the ball in.
The Trojans might also be the only team left on the Oregon schedule that has the athletes on defense that could keep up with the OU offense.
USC ranks third in the PAC-12 against the run, holding opposing running backs to just 3.48 yards per carry, fourth in the country with 15 passes intercepted and sixth in the nation with 27 sacks on the season.
While freshman Marcus Mariota has surpassed all expectations this season, this will without a doubt be the biggest game of his career. In two games starting on the road in his career, Mariota has combined for just 215 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. If the USC defensive can penetrate the line and fluster the freshman quarterback for the first time this season, Oregon will have a difficult time sustaining drives, thus letting the USC offense dictate the tempo.
Now, for all you superstitious fans out there, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Oregon plays USC after beating Colorado last week. Every FBS team to beat Colorado this year has lost its next game (incl USC last week)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 2, 2012
Whether you believe it or not, Colorado is either a much more physical team than they appear, or there is some sort of magic in the air, and I am siding with the latter.
Based on the numbers and what I have seen, my mind and logic has me picking Oregon, but my gut feeling says this will be a much closer game than people think, and USC will give the Ducks their first test of the year.