LOS ANGELES – Southern California linebacker Hayes Pullard connects with Oregon tailback De’Anthony Thomas pretty much every day, either by phone or text.
They went to Crenshaw High School together, and they’ve been anticipating the Ducks’ visit to the Coliseum today nearly since graduation.
“We usually talk about other things, but this week it went to football right away,” Pullard said.
They’re not alone. No. 2 Oregon’s visit to Los Angeles has loomed as the biggest day on the Pac-12 calendar since late last year, when USC demonstrated the Ducks couldn’t completely dominate the West Coast.
Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) has won 11 straight games and the Rose Bowl since that 38-35 loss to USC in Eugene, seamlessly replacing key starters on its spread offense while building a defense that might be the Ducks’ best yet.
The 18th-ranked Trojans (6-2, 4-2) haven’t exactly lived up to the promise of that gritty road win. Two narrow road losses this fall have knocked the preseason’s No. 1 team out of the national title race and left them significant underdogs in their own stadium.
Just don’t try to tell anybody on either sideline that this showdown has lost any significance.
“I don’t think anything has changed much,” said Robert Woods, USC’s All-America receiver. “Oregon is still going to come here and play like it’s a championship game, and I know we will. I hope they don’t overlook us.”
Even a two-loss USC team is an attention-grabber for Oregon, which is roaring down the stretch of another spectacular season. The Ducks haven’t even played a close game, trouncing every opponent by at least 17 points while leading the nation in scoring.
“Playoffs started in college football on the first game of the season, and when you lose, you’re done,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “Look who tumbles and goes. That’s not hard for our guys to figure that out. If you have a vision of what you want to get accomplished, you’d better take each game like it’s the Super Bowl.”
USC quarterback Matt Barkley is coming off the most prolific game in school history, a 493-yard effort in a 39-36 loss to Arizona that included a record 345 yards receiving by Marqise Lee, who spent much of this week working on midterm exams. A week earlier, Barkley went 19 of 20 with one dropped pass against Colorado.