No USC football this weekend. I might cry.
The connection between junior quarterback Matt Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods is, in a word, beautiful. But I won’t be able to see these Trojans try to break another offensive record Saturday.
What about the high praise showering freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee? I won’t be able to hear that either from USC coach Lane Kiffin.
But no game Saturday probably also saves me from a heart attack the way these first five games have played out.
Despite the criticism and speculation from lamenting fans and students, USC is 4-1 heading into the bye week. It still has a fair share of problems to correct — namely on defense — but wins are wins, and, at this point, that in many ways is all that matters.
With an extra week of preparation before its bout with the Golden Bears in the Bay Area, there is football outside of USC football.
Not only can USC pay attention to game film, but it can also watch other Pac-12 games that have further implications affecting itself and its possible Heisman candidates in Barkley and Woods.
Here’s a viewer’s guide to this weekend sans USC football:
Conference positioning in Salt Lake City
After disposing of USC and Oregon State at home, Arizona State travels to Salt Lake City for the first time in 34 years and for its first Pac-12 road game.
Picked to finish second behind USC in the South division, the Sun Devils might have their hands full. Their only loss this season came on the road at Illinois and they have lost 10 of their last conference road games. One stat favoring Arizona State, however, is that they have won seven straight meetings against Utah. The two teams, however, have not played each other since 1993. This matchup has conference title implications as well. Though USC cannot compete in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, it still has a shot at the South division title. The Sun Devils hold the tiebreaker over USC, but a Utah win would give USC an outside shot at taking the division if Arizona State can fall for the first time in Pac-12 play.
Root for UCLA?
With that said, and as weird as it sounds, I might have to root for the powder blue Bruins this weekend. UCLA stands at 1-1 in conference play, good for third place in the South division behind Arizona State and USC. The Bruins take on Washington State at home Saturday. And if the Bruins, favored by 5.5 points, can win, this would set off a frenzy. Yes, UCLA wins but its win complicates matters halfway through the season.
If Arizona State loses, there would be a three-way tie for first place in the South division among the Trojans, Sun Devils and Bruins. Optimistic? Yes, but anything is possible.
Woods’ Heisman watch
What more can be said about Woods? The Serra standout has seemingly done it all this year. He broke a USC game-high record with 17 receptions against Minnesota and he fell five yards short of tying the Trojans’ single-game record for receiving yards against Arizona last weekend. Through just five games, he is 10 receptions and 45 receiving yards shy of tying his totals as a freshman. And he already has tied the number of touchdowns he scored last year.
Still, he has not garnered much attention as a possible Heisman candidate.
Other possible wideout candidates playing this weekend include Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Western Michigan’s Jordan White. Woods, however, is outproducing all of them. The only knock against Woods? Broyles and Blackmon play for national title-contending teams. Voters will surely take that into account if a wide receiver were to be invited to New York at the end of the season.
USC might not be playing this weekend, but plenty of storylines are out there affecting the Trojans. If this season were to get any crazier — and it has been quite the ride through five games — Utah and UCLA could make things interesting halfway through the season for USC.
At least I have something to look forward to this weekend.
“In the Zone” runs every other Friday.
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