Two days before the USC Trojans battle the Oregon State Beavers on ESPN's Thursday Night football, two things are quite clear about the men from Troy: 1. They have as much talent as any program in the country with arguably the most depth any team has ever seen. 2. USC controls its own destination and for them, the sky is the limit.
After a 35-3 thumping of the Ohio State Buckeyes, USC proved that it was not only better than Ohio State but that they still relish the opportunity to play on the big stage. Beanie Wells or not, OSU had zero chance against USC's speed and strength. The only question that remains for USC is their ability to concentrate on each and every play of each and every game. All USC needs to do is learn from their past mistakes like last year's let down against Stanford and use that as motivation to never let that sort of event happen again. In fact, Pete Carroll and his staff should put a picture up in every player's locker of Stanford celebrating a 24-23 win in their Coliseum if the team ever loses its edge.
Last year's loss to Stanford not only hurt USC's ranking and reputation for 2007 but it is still effecting their program today. Bloggers, writers, and fans from the SEC and the Big 12 are constantly writing about USC's loss to Stanford and how this loss showed how overrated USC was and still is. Those same fans often excuse or forget the 4-0 record USC has vs the SEC (Auburn and Arkansas) since 2003 and how experts and fans thought the Oklahoma Sooners in 2004 were one of the best teams ever...that was until USC demolished the sooners 55-19 to win the National Championship game in Miami.
This year's USC team is one of the most talented bunch of guys Carroll has ever had and that USC fans have ever seen, period. The offense is loaded with 4 and 5 star running backs and the young offensive line is playing much better than people expected. Mark Sanchez has been extremely efficient and hasn't been asked to do too much yet which will soon change. Sanchez has a cannon for an arm and has much more athleticism than the last two USC quarterbacks Leinart and Booty. His main problem is trying to do too much. Sometimes he wants to make an impact so badly that he will try to gun a ball in between two defenders or he will try to perfectly float a ball over a well positioned safety. For the most part though, Sanchez is exactly what USC needs... he is an extremely vocal leader and the guys love to play for him which is something last year's team lacked.
The defense is good--scary good. They have potentially 6 or 7 guys that could be picked in early rounds of the NFL Draft. They have the swagger and they say the right things, now they need to prove it on the field. The one true obstacle USC has besides a possible let down is the fact that the Pac 10 teams this year are struggling outside of the conference. Which means that if USC wants to make an impression on not only the doubters but on the BCS system, they need to not just beat their conference opponents, they need to blow them out.
In recent years Oregon, Arizona State, California and even Oregon State at times have been nationally ranked in the top 25 but this season Arizona State is already 2-2 which includes a horrible loss to UNLV and in a statement game versus Georgia, ASU was beaten fairly easy. And although Oregon is still ranked in the top 25 after losing a tough game to Boise State, they suffered a huge set back with their injuries at the quarterback position. Cal lost at Maryland and Oregon State was not only upset by Stanford but they also were embarrassed by Penn State.
Knowing this and knowing how bad Penn State beat Oregon State just a couple of weeks ago, USC not only has to beat Oregon State this Thursday night on national television, the Trojans need to make a statement, again. With most of their difficult games at home this season, USC is the only team that can beat USC and end their dreams of holding the glass trophy again in Dolphin's Stadium.
The two most difficult games of the season for USC in my opinion are games at the Arizona Wldcats and home versus the Washington Huskies. These two games may come as a surprise to many but here is my reasoning:
USC at Arizona: Any road game is tougher than a home game, that is a given. But USC only beat Arizona 20-13 last season in L.A. and Arizona actually dominated most of the game. Senior Quarterback Willie Tuitama is a very skilled passer and if needed he can be somewhat mobile. Arizona has a lot to prove and has a veteran team that is sick of under-achieving. A win against USC on national TV would not only please the wildcats and their community, it could also save Mike Stoops' coaching job.
Washington at USC- A home game? Yes a home game. Although USC has been incredibly tough to beat at home, last year Stanford made other teams believe it is at least somewhat possible to pull an upset in Hollywood. Plus, the Huskies have one of the most underrated Quarterbacks in the country in Jake Locker. He is one heck of an athlete and his mobility is a great concern for the Trojans. Last year USC escaped with a 27-24 win in Seattle and even though the Huskies looked pathetic versus Oklahoma two weeks ago, this will be a game for USC to take very seriously.