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USC Battles the Ducks

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Saturday is big. It’s really big. Everyone seems to know it. ESPN’s College GameDay is going to be there. Oregon’s newest bastardized uniform creation (carbon fiber helmets and “steel” pants) will be there. A capacity crowd at Autzen Stadium will be there.

USC vs. Oregon is almost upon us and it’s big. It’s enormous. I am going out on a limb and saying it’s ginormous. Now I am putting GINORMOUS in capital letters. I think you get the picture. This game is so big I’d write this whole post in neon letters if I had the technology.

The Ohio State vs. USC matchup earlier in the season got the typical ESPN “game of the century” treatment, but really it pales in comparison to Saturday’s Pac-10 throwdown. There’s just so much more at stake.

USC is still very much in the national championship picture. There is so much upside to a win, but a loss would land this season as their 2nd worst since Coach Carroll took Traveller’s reigns (I think we all remember 6-6 and a 10-6 loss on Christmas day to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl).

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If USC were to win out and finish as a one-loss team, the BCS might smile and push them into one of the top two spots. Florida, Alabama and Texas are the three teams standing in USC’s way. Florida and Alabama will have to play each other in the SEC Championship. If history has taught us anything, rematches do not happen in the title game (think Ohio State and Michigan a few years back). The winner of the Alabama-Florida bout is in. The loser is out. Done deal. If Texas drops a game between now and the end of the season, USC will be in the driver's seat.

But first they will need to contend with the Ducks.

Not only are USC's national title hopes pinned to this game, but so are their more pedestrian hopes of winning the Pac-10 and returning to the Rose Bowl. A USC loss, barring any colossal choke from Oregon, would end their streak of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles. It would be austere to see USC taking on, say, Oklahoma in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, wouldn't it? That's the kind of thing Cal does. Right?

Oregon looks strong. After a shocking Week One loss to Boise State, the Ducks have won six straight with a spread offense led by QB Jeremiah Masoli. The way their spread works is almost criminal. Short passes, strong and nimble running from LaMichael James (6.9 yards per carry) and sneaky misdirections by Masoli all day long. It’s a tried and true way to beat USC. Take the Trojans’ superior athletes, confuse them, spread them out and keep them on the field all day long. Let the Trojan offense deal with the predicted rainy, cold weather from the sidelines.

On paper, USC’s offense should score on Oregon’s defense. It’s how USC’s once-vaunted D will hold up in Eugene. After a strong start to the season, the defense has been shredded in consecutive weeks by Notre Dame and Oregon State. Oregon’s offense may be too good to allow into a shootout. If it goes there, hopefully USC's equipment managers packed Kevlar vests along with the shoulder pads and helmets.

Oregon dresses up every weekend like it's Halloween. This Saturday, it actually is. For the Trojans, the scariest part won't be the Ducks' costumes. It'll be that their season hangs in the balance.