EUGENE, Ore. – Back at the start of the season, Oregon’s game at USC was circled on lots of calendars.
When the season started with USC ranked No. 1 and Oregon No. 5, Saturday’s clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles appeared to be the marquee matchup of the Pacific-12 Conference season, a possible preview of the league championship game.
Adding to anticipation was USC’s 38-35 victory over the Ducks last season in Eugene, Ore.
Eight weeks later, the shine is off the game. USC has lost two games, including a 39-36 loss at Arizona last weekend. The Trojans are No. 18 in the AP rankings.
Undefeated Oregon has climbed to No. 2 and has taken aim at a second national championship berth in three seasons. The Ducks lead the nation with an average of 53.38 points a game. Their vaunted offense is third with 331 yards rushing and seventh in total offense with 540 yards on average.
Oregon hasn’t dropped a game since that loss to the Trojans last season, a string of 11 consecutive victories.
So it follows that the Ducks (8-0 overall, 5-0 Pac-12) are favored to win.
But don’t count out USC (6-2, 4-2), warned Colorado coach Jon Embree, who has seen both teams.
“With a team like that, you’d rather play them after a win than a loss,” Embree said. “They’re going to come out fighting and with a different sense of purpose.”
Colorado is the most recent team to fall to the Ducks, losing a 70-14 decision last weekend at Autzen Stadium. Oregon had a 56-0 at halftime and piled up 617 yards in total offense.
Earlier in the season, the Buffaloes lost to the Trojans, 50-6, in Los Angeles. USC quarterback Matt Barkley tied his school record by throwing for six scores.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have also faced both teams — and also lost to both in back-to-back weeks — wasn’t willing to pick a winner.
“I think it will be a good game,” Sarkisian said. “I think they’re different in their style and their approaches. But they’re both good teams, both well-coached. It will be a fun game to watch.”
The Trojans still lead the Pac-12 South, but they lost to Stanford, 21-14 earlier in the season, and last week to Arizona, 39-36.
Still, USC did put up some impressive offensive numbers against Arizona, including Marqise Lee’s Pac-12-record 345 yards receiving on 16 catches, with two touchdowns. Lee was named the Pac-12 player of the week.
Barkley threw for a school-record 493 yards and three touchdowns as the Trojans rolled up 618 yards.
The Trojans hurt themselves with 13 penalties for 117 yards. USC is the most penalized team in the Football Bowl Subdivision – 10.25 for 84.63 yards a game.
In contrast, Oregon blanked Arizona, 49-0, earlier this season.
“Both teams have great athletes on both sides of the ball, and certainly a lot of guys that are going to be playing on Sunday,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Oregon’s philosophy is to try to go faster offensively, at a different tempo than USC goes, but I think it’s going to be a great ballgame.”
Even though the Trojans aren’t living up to expectations, they’re still playing for the Pac-12 South and a spot in the league title game on Nov. 30 — where they could face Oregon again.
Oregon’s players are aware of what’s at stake.
“This game has been hyped all season and it’s finally here. But we couldn’t focus on them the whole year because then we wouldn’t be where we are,” Oregon safety Brian Jackson said. “So now it’s time to focus on them and they definitely have our attention.”