Before the season started, when media members overwhelmingly voted Southern California as their pick to win the Pac-12 championship, there was one game, many believed, that would be determine whether a team from this conference might run the table
That game will be played on Saturday, in Los Angeles, when No. 2 Oregon – a distant runner-up to the Trojans in that media poll – visits USC. And it’s a matchup that might still have national championship ramifications.
But only for the Ducks.
It’s no surprise that Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) is unbeaten at this point. It is a bit surprising, however, that USC is just 6-2, losses to Stanford in September and Arizona last week derailing what many expected to be a run at a national title in the Trojans’ first season post-probation.
So maybe this weekend’s clash of the titans isn’t what it was cracked up to be two months ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s lost all of its potential to be the Pac-12’s game of the year.
A big reason why is the contrast between the teams’ styles. Oregon runs and runs and runs, using a spread offense and a no-huddle tempo to wear defenses down and exploit them with superior speed and conditioning.
“(They’re) different philosophically,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, whose Wildcats were embarrassed at Oregon, 49-0, but held off USC in a 39-36 shootout last weekend. “Both have great athletes on both sides of the ball, certainly a lot of guys that could be playing on Sundays.”
USC’s biggest offensive threats are its quarterback, Matt Barkley, and its two future NFL receivers, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. The Trojans run a pro-style offense, and are at their best with the ball in Barkley’s hands.
For Oregon, which has beaten opponents by an average of 34 points per game, this weekend offers a chance for the Ducks to prove they can beat a team with similar-caliber athletes in a hostile environment. And the Trojans, with two conference losses already, are trying to solidify their hold on the Pac-12 South.
The Ducks, who lead the country in scoring offense with 53.4 points per game, are favored by eight points.
“They’re different in their style and their approaches,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost to both Oregon (52-21) and USC (24-14) this season. “They’re both good teams, both well-coached. It’ll be a great game to watch.”
But there will be no talk of big games and marquee matchups from Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
“They’re all conference games, and if you want to get to the top of this conference you’ve got to take care of your business in the conference,” Kelly said.
“In college football nowadays, the playoffs started in the first week of September, and if you lose, you’re kind of eliminated from the playoffs. … Every game we play is huge.”
No hard feelings
Much was made during the offseason about former California assistants Tosh Lupoi and Eric Keisau leaving to coach at Washington. Bears fans were especially rankled by Sarkisian’s poaching of Lupoi, the team’s recruiting coordinator, just before national signing day.
If Cal coach Jeff Tedford is bothered by it, though, he’s not telling. The Bears host UW on Friday.
“That hasn’t come out that there’s been a personal grudge there at all,” Tedford said. “I haven’t seen that.”
Sarkisian also downplayed the connection.
“Not really,” he said when asked if the former Cal assistants could help lend insight into the Bears program. “Every year, every team’s different.”
According to the school’s official athletics Twitter account, Utah receiver Reggie Dunn’s two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns against Cal on Saturday were an NCAA record.
Dunn has three 100-yard kick returns for touchdowns in his career.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said Dunn has had some problems holding onto the ball, something that has prevented him from being the team’s regular kick returner.
He looked OK on Saturday.
“He’s worked really hard on that,” Whittingham said. “Got him on the Jugs machine at practice every day on kickoffs.”