USC vs. Oregon is perhaps one of the best new rivalries in college football, and the game on Saturday may just as well be considered the Pac-12 championship game.
It pits former Pac-10 dynasty—USC—against the Pac-12's rising powerhouse—Oregon—in a battle that will decide the Pac-12 conference title this year as well as Pac-12 titles in the foreseeable future.
Somewhat under the radar as of late, USC is still a great football team. The Trojans are currently 8-2, and while they cannot be ranked in the BCS polls due to NCAA sanctions they are ranked at No. 18 in the AP Poll.
In contrast to USC, Oregon has been anything but under the radar the past few years. The Ducks have claimed two straight Pac-10 titles and, with a huge win over the undefeated Stanford Cardinal, have placed themselves in prime position for a third straight conference championship and also have their eyes on a second consecutive national championship appearance.
Though unconventional rivals, whenever Oregon and USC are playing against one another, expect to see plenty of tension and bitterness expressed on the field. And on Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. PT, the rivalry will once again be renewed on ABC.
Here are 10 keys to watch as Oregon and USC renew their pleasantries.
There has been a rumor as of late that Autzen Stadium, one of the toughest places to play in college football, has lost its swagger.
In an article published on Oct. 13, Bob Welch of Eugene's Register-Guard noted that "we Oregon fans seem to have lost our edge." He cited a lack of enthusiasm and "complacency" as the overall problem, noting that Duck fans have just come to expect to win without being passionate about the game.
The game, in Welch's mind, has become a side-attraction.
Is this true, Autzen? Have you lost your swagger, Eugene?
When Autzen Stadium reaches the tenacity and its full potential, you can't hear a thing and it's a huge advantage for the Oregon Ducks. In fact, in the previous contest at Autzen between the Trojans and Ducks, the Trojans accumulated five first-half false starts.
Yes, you read that properly. Five. In the first half.
Autzen needs to be at full potential on Saturday night and return to its roots against a USC team that will be looking to pull off the upset.
Once shrouded behind other great running backs at USC, it is now Curtis McNeal's turn to step up to the podium.
Though not the starter until late this season, McNeal is not looking back and is taking his level of play to a completely different level.
Since being handed the ball by head coach Lane Kiffin, McNeal has had rushing performances of 118, 145 and 148 yards, the latter one coming in USC's 40-17 win over the Washington Huskies.
McNeal is making the most of his opportunity as a starter to show the nation just how good he can be and will definitely need to have a stellar performance against an Oregon defense that is once again turning the corner in order to prove that he can carry the load for the Trojans.
USC will rely on McNeal against Oregon to provide constant run support in order to open up the passing game for Matt Barkley to dissect a young Oregon secondary. If he gets going, we may be talking about a huge upset in Eugene.
Matt Barkley is the factor that makes the Trojan offense operate the way it does. While it may seem rather obvious to point this fact out, it is important to note this because Barkley means that much to the Trojan offense.
When playing at his best, Barkley is one of the smartest and most talented quarterbacks in the nation. He went toe-to-toe with Andrew Luck and is one of the top QB prospects for the NFL.
Barkley has thrown for 29 TDs while only accounting for six interceptions, including a 468-yard performance against Arizona in a 48-41 shootout.
In order for the Trojans to have a shot against the Ducks, Barkley will have to play to the potential that he has shown he can.
If you have not heard yet, LaMichael James is good.
Despite suffering an injury against the California Golden Bears that kept him out of action for two games this season (Arizona State and Colorado), James is still one of the top rushers in the nation, having rushed for 1,207 yards on just 153 carries for a 7.9 average as well as 12 touchdowns.
For any running back these are great numbers, but considering James was out for two games where he most likely put up more gaudy numbers, the kid is absolutely ridiculous.
The reigning Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman candidate must keep up his production as he showed he was back to full health against a tough Stanford defense.
This week James will have to do much of the same. USC brings a physical defense that James will have to administer blow after blow to and carry the Ducks on his shoulders in the friendly confines of Autzen.
James must have another stellar performance against USC in order to keep the Ducks' hopes of an outside shot at the national title alive.
If you have ever watched an Oregon football game, you know the fireworks come in the second half of play.
Opponents have constantly played Oregon close heading into halftime, but there is something about the Ducks' halftime routine that makes them unstoppable in the second half.
If USC wants to win this game, it will need to find out just how to keep the Oregon Ducks at bay after halftime.
How USC will achieve this is still unknown. The only thing known is that if USC is going to hang with the Ducks and make it a close game, it will need to be able to play toe-to-toe and match the Ducks' second-half performance.
Darron Thomas is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation. He leads one of the most complex offenses in the nation and has helped the Ducks in becoming one of the best teams in the nation.
When Thomas executes the offense like he can and does not commit errors and plays within his means, the Oregon offense becomes nearly unstoppable.
However, Thomas is just coming back from an injury and has shown in the past a tendency to overthrow balls and make improper reads, thus resulting in either turnovers or losing the ball on downs to opposing teams.
Thomas' performance in the Ducks' game against the Trojans will have a big impact upon the outcome of this game.
If Oregon wants to ensure a win against USC on Saturday night at Autzen stadium, the defensive line will need to play like it did against Stanford.
Against the Cardinal, the defensive line kept putting pressure on Andrew Luck and the Cardinal en route to one of its more dominating performances of the year. This game showed that what was thought to be an "undersized" defensive line could play with the big guys.
Oregon's defense is averaging 3.2 sacks per game, good enough for fifth in the nation, while the USC offensive line is only surrendering 0.6 sacks per game, third in the nation.
Something's gotta give.
The Duck defensive line must continue to assert its strength against a powerful USC offensive line in order to prove to the nation it is able to play with the best of offensive lines.
In recent years, USC has made great strides to increase its defensive speed while maintaining the same force as well.
This new defensive speed of USC will be put to the test against the undeniable speed of the Ducks.
Oregon uses its skill players to create mismatches in the open field that are enhanced when defenses are unable to adapt to the Ducks' speed and agility.
The USC defense must be prepared to have one-on-one matchups with the Ducks where they will have to use their speed to keep up with the skill players of the Ducks.
If USC is able to do this, it may be able to keep the game close and engineer a late upset.
Wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee compose one of the best wide receiver corps in college football and help to make the Trojan offense run like it does.
These two wide receivers are the primary targets for Matt Barkley, and when they are left in open space they create mismatches for defenses that help the Trojans move down the field.
Though Woods is an excellent receiver and creates problems for defenses in his own regard, Lee is especially important to the USC Trojans.
Lee has established himself as a dangerous kick returner as well as wide receiver and is an anchor of a young USC Trojan football team.
The play of these two primary receivers will be one of the key factors in USC's game against Oregon in Eugene.
Though this may be more of a superstitious myth than actual key to the game, it is important to note that USC has not won in the state of Oregon since 2005.
If you do the math properly, the Trojans have lost five straight games in Oregon, something unbelievable when accounting for the fact they have faced some fairly weak Oregon State teams, especially as of late.
Whether it be sheer chance or an actual mystical force working against the Trojans, USC cannot find a way to win a game in Oregon, and it will be hoping to break this recent tradition against the Oregon Ducks when it travels to Autzen Stadium this Saturday.