USC is in a very unusual position with only two regular season games left in the 2012 college football season.
Obviously, the very fact that the Trojans are eligible to play in a bowl is something they haven't experienced in the past two years while serving out the NCAA's postseason sanctions. But USC also has a chance to really upset the proverbial apple cart.
This Saturday No. 18 USC plays at No. 17 UCLA in its annual cross-town rivalry and the game itself appears to be one where a rout by either team is unlikely. Even odds-makers in Las Vegas have USC as a very slight favorite—last year USC was favored by more than two touchdowns and won 50-0.
The challenge for UCLA will be in its defense, specifically its secondary. The Bruins' pass defense is ranked 10th in the Pac-12 and it will be facing a third-ranked pass offense led by quarterback Matt Barkley throwing to receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, a legitimate Heisman contender.
If UCLA can't stop the passing game, USC will beat UCLA and the Trojans will then represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship game, presumably facing the Oregon Ducks.
Which scenario is most likely?
Can USC beat Oregon? The better question is can Oregon beat USC twice in one season?
Despite Oregon beating USC 62-51 earlier in November, USC still scored 51 points on the Ducks and that has to be a major concern for Chip Kelly if he has to face USC again.
Remember, USC beat Oregon in that noisy and inhospitable Autzen Stadium last year. The Trojans won't be intimidated and to be honest, will be playing with nothing to lose.
Nobody expects USC to beat Oregon because USC has been kicked and ridiculed ever since its loss to Stanford in mid-September.
Overrated. No defense. Cheaters.
But USC can still control its destiny. And if Monte Kiffin can actually have his front seven practice gap discipline, USC can beat Oregon. The reason why Kenjon Barner ran all over USC's defense—beside the fact that he's an incredibly gifted athlete—is simple to explain.
When Barner gets the ball, he doesn't always explode out of the backfield. More often than not, he stutter steps while looking for a hole in the middle of the line—once he hits it, the defense crashes toward him. At that point, Barner runs east-west toward the sidelines putting the front seven in poor position—and at bad angles—to tackle him. Once he gets open he's off to the races.
USC's linebackers have to stay in their lanes and not be lured toward the middle of the line while the defensive ends can't give up the outside edge. USC also has to score first on the Ducks and put them in a position to play catch-up.
Oregon received bad news today in that starting safety Avery Patterson is out for the year with a torn ACL, according to a report from Oregon.live.com. The Ducks' defense is already beat up so this doesn't help an already precarious situation. Kelly has the luxury of a lot of depth and freely substitutes his players to give them all experience, but some that same report indicated that several defensive starters didn't play against Cal last Saturday.
Attrition is taking its toll on Oregon.
If USC can beat UCLA and Notre Dame in the regular season, the Fighting Irish are out of the BCS Championship game—unless the rest of the undefeated teams also lose—and UCLA is out of the Pac-12 Championship game. Make no mistake, Notre Dame is going to a BCS bowl even if it loses to Wake Forest and USC.
If USC beats Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, the BCS Championship is in complete disarray as three of its four darlings are one-loss teams: Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon.
Kansas State vs. who?
If Alabama wins the SEC, there's your answer.
In the mean time, USC may still have a final message to the NCAA and the BCS after the regular season ends.