Three straight weeks, a National Championship contender has tasted its first defeat, and there are many reasons to believe that this number could reach four by the end of the weekend.
Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma have all fallen from the ranks of the unbeaten over each of the last three weeks – and while the Oregon Ducks may not own the #1 ranking in the BCS, this is the top-ranked team in both the AP and USA Today Poll – and one that could be the next to falter on the road, as the previous three did.
Many critics may be quick to point that the NCAA sanctions have extracted a lot of motivation out of the 2010 USC Trojans – and at times, this point does appear to be true.
But USC still finds itself sitting at 5-2 and ranked 23rd in the AP Poll after an impressive 48-14 win over Cal last weekend. The Trojans’ only two losses (to Stanford and Washington) have been by a combined three points.
The Oregon Ducks have steamrolled its opponents with tons of speed and a fast-paced offense that’s been tying defenses in knots over the course of four quarters.
But while the Ducks have worn teams down – and in many cases, completely outran them – this will not be the case at USC on Saturday.
The Trojans have just as much talent and speed on offense as the Ducks do. In fact, these two teams are arguably the fastest outside of the SEC conference.
Entering this week, Oregon was ranked 1st in scoring offense (55.1 ppg), 3rd in rushing offense (311 ypg), 33rd in passing offense (258.1 ypg) and 1st in the FBS in total offense (569.1 ypg).
Pretty potent, but USC is not far behind. The Trojans are ranked 14th in scoring offense (37.4 ppg), 18th in rushing offense (213 ypg), 22nd in passing offense (281.0 ypg) and 7th in the FBS in total offense (494.0 ypg).
It’s easy to see that with Matt Barkley playing lights out football (20 TD, 4 INT in 2010) - and a series of talented athletes on both sides of the ball - the Trojans have what it takes to stick with the Ducks all night long.
But there are four important motivational factors that could help push the game further towards Lane Kiffin’s favor.
1) This is USC’s National Championship.
At least, it should be pitched that way. With the sanctions keeping this team from a bowl game, Lane Kiffin should be promoting this game to his players as the big one – USC’s “Natty” for 2010. The coaching staff should even consider mocking up a trophy that the players could hoist if the Trojans win – and that way, there would be two trophies in the stadium that day, including Lane’s wife.
2) Revenge for last year’s 47-20 beatdown at Autzen Stadium
Last year’s loss was ugly – and USC’s defense was exposed. This season, it's former NFL defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin leading the Trojans defense – and so far, it hasn’t gone well. USC ranks 87th in total defense – and that’s quite surprising considering Monte’s track record. The key will be the Trojans – and its 39th ranked rush defense – attempting to limit the damage on Heisman candidate LaMichael James and the Ducks running game.
3) It’s Homecoming for Southern California.
Homecoming games always bring a little extra excitement, a little more tailgating and a little more cheering by the time the game starts – especially for a night game, which this one is.
4) Oregon is the first top-ranked team to visit USC in over 20 years.
Not that there’s any more need for motivation, but the Ducks are the first No. 1 team to visit the Coliseum since 1988. During a year where there’s no prize at the end of the road, a victory over a top-ranked team can provide a supplemental gift to a trying season.
When Saturday night arrives, expect the Oregon Ducks offense to show up and give Monte Kiffin fits, but do not expect this game to be a laugher.
Monte Kiffin and the USC defense will be the key to this game, and expect Monte – with all his NFL experience – to push his Trojans this week into simulating against the way Oregon runs its hurry-up spread offense. With the athletic talent that the Trojans have, this group shouldn’t tire as others did, especially if the offense continues to do its part.
The USC Trojans have plenty of weapons and should have plenty of motivation heading into Saturday night – so duck and cover, Oregon – this could be a long and trying evening.