Though I’m not particularly fluent in the various Internet memes, their origins or why people take the time to generate so many, USC’s clash at Arizona on Saturday conjures one I’ve seen floating around cyberspace: “It’s a trap!”
Before continuing, here’s a brief meme history lesson: This meme is derived from a scene in Star Wars Episode VI : Return of the Jedi during which Admiral Ackbar, the foremost military commander of the Rebel Alliance and leader of the Mon Calamari species, famously screams, “It’s a trap!”
To think, Internet notoriety was only a couple of generations away.
Back to football: It’s not the meeting against Arizona itself that inspires trepidation among USC fans, it’s the context. As some of you might have heard, Oregon looms on Nov. 3 in what will be a titanic clash of tradition versus Puddles and Nike’s acid trips.
The basic concept behind a “trap game” is the following: A heavily favored team, either coming off of an emotionally and physically draining game or expecting such a contest in the following week, overlooks its current opponent.
But don’t listen to the rumblings, this is not a trap. USC might very well lose this game, but the Trojans won’t suffer the upset because they overlooked the Wildcats.
Pundits have stretched the trap game concept too thin. Now any time a BCS heavyweight clashes with a talented team flirting with the top 25, it’s ripe for upset because it’s a trap.
But Saturday’s game at Arizona is not a trap; it’s a stiff challenge.
Let’s be honest, USC is currently a 6.5-point favorite. If a team is favored by less than a touchdown, you can’t expect it to overlook its opponent. What’s the logic in that?
By the way, in case you were wondering, USC coach Lane Kiffin is well aware of point spreads. When a reporter inquired about the challenges of motivating his team to play a 40-point underdog in Colorado, Kiffin jokingly reminded him that the spread had since risen to 41 points.
Arizona is by no means a pushover. At least statistically, Arizona’s offense, which ranks fifth nationally, is better than Oregon’s.
Remember the measly 14 points USC mustered against Stanford’s vaunted defensive front seven? Arizona scored 48 points and racked up 617 total yards in an overtime defeat at Stanford Stadium.
Remember USC’s inability to score in the second half against Washington? Arizona just throttled the Huskies 52-17 last Saturday.
For the final time this regular season, the Trojans will board an airplane and venture into hostile territory. The student section in Arizona Stadium, aptly called the “Zona Zoo,” is more raucous than anything USC has experienced up to this point, save for perhaps Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Comprised of 10,000 students filling the entire east side of the stadium, the Zona Zoo is a nuisance for opposing offenses, especially ones — like USC — that are prone to false starts and delays of game.
If the Trojans can’t deflate the air out of the rowdy student section early in the game, it might be a long afternoon for USC, especially since all signs point to a classic Pac-12 shoot-out that will entertain fans for four quarters.
A potent, quick-strike spread offense, much like the one Oregon runs, and an amped home crowd, much like the diehards at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., present Arizona as USC’s toughest challenge to date — perhaps even more so than Stanford.
That said, there’s a reason USC is favored and Arizona has already dropped three games: The Wildcats surrender 30.4 points per game and rank 11th in the Pac-12 in average yards allowed with 464.7 ($5 to the person who can guess the worst defense in the Pac-12 — hint: Senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw six touchdowns against them last week).
Yes, USC rightfully deserves to be favored and Arizona is an imperfect team. But if the Trojans lose Saturday afternoon, don’t immediately dismiss the result as USC overlooking an opponent. Even seven games into the season, it’s still unclear just how imperfect the Trojans are, too.
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