Here’s a scary scenario for USC fans:
It’s Halloween night and the USC football team is up in Eugene, Ore., trick-or-treating. But instead of terrorizing homeowners with intimidation and trepidation, the Trojans fall victim to the spell of the Ducks and leave empty-handed.
This isn’t your far-fetched Halloween horror movie. This is real.
USC arguably runs into its biggest test of the season when it faces No. 10 Oregon in a battle of one-loss teams. ESPN’s College GameDay will be on the scene documenting and analyzing every move. It’s inevitable that analyst Lee Corso will dress up as a Duck or Trojan this Halloween. But the question is: which one?
Both teams still have their sights set on the national championship, but they’ve used two of their three lifelines.
1. Both teams have asked the audience. Turns out the audience favors the Trojans, who are ranked No. 4 in the AP and Coaches’ Polls, over the Ducks, who are ranked No. 10 and No. 12 respectively.
2. Both teams have phoned a friend — a computerized one. That friend is kinder to Oregon, who sits at No. 6 in the computer rankings, than USC, which finds itself down at No. 9.
3. So now, it’s down to the last lifeline: 50/50. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the Pac-10 title and still in the same car for the national title. But the loser will be forced to make alternate New Year’s plans. Cases could be made for both teams, but USC is the right answer.
Of course, it won’t be easy. The Trojans’ three-game losing streak in the state of Oregon has been well publicized, as has USC’s poor defensive play recently.
In the first five games of the season, USC gave up 40 total points, didn’t allow anyone to throw for more than 237 yards and didn’t give up a single passing touchdown. However, in the last two games against Notre Dame and Oregon State, the defense has been shredded for 63 points and 614 passing yards combined.
But that’s exactly why USC will beat the Ducks. Oregon’s quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, resembles Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor more than Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen. And USC has had great success against Pryor in the past two years. With defensive ends junior Everson Griffen and redshirt freshman Nick Perry among the nation’s leaders in sacks, the Trojans will knock Masoli down harder than a LeGarrette Blount punch.
Sure, USC lost its last game in Eugene because it had an inexperienced quarterback in Mark Sanchez — who was filling in for an injured John David Booty — but lack of experience won’t be a problem this time. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley has grown up faster than anyone could have imagined. USC coach Pete Carroll, who’s coached two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, has called Barkley an “outlier.”
Barkley is the cool, relaxed Southern California kid who seems to be enjoying everything life throws at him. During his second start against Ohio State in the third-largest college football stadium in the country, he walked into the huddle, smiled and asked, “Isn’t this fun?”
Students have tried to hurl everything at Barkley, from insults to paper. Before the game at Cal, Barkley said the crowd probably wouldn’t be as bad as the crowd at Ohio State. So, the Cal students printed out fliers reminding everyone of this. Barkley responded by throwing for a then career-high 283 yards.
When Barkley says the crowd won’t be a factor, apparently he means it. Barkley is undefeated thus far in his career at USC — redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp played in the game against Washington when Barkley was injured.
Barkley’s success might hinge on the status of senior tight end Anthony McCoy, who sprained his ankle last week. McCoy is questionable for the game, but there’s no questioning the chemistry he’s developed with Barkley. In the game against Notre Dame, McCoy caught five passes for 153 yards, including a huge 60-yard gain as a Fighting Irish defender clung onto his jersey on a critical third down in the second half.
Of course, Barkley’s job is made much easier by the play of USC’s tailbacks. Even though USC lost its most consistent back in senior Stafon Johnson to a weightlifting accident last month, the ground game hasn’t missed a beat.
Senior Allen Bradford has stepped up, running for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in USC’s win over Oregon State last week. Bradford, a USA Today first-team Prep All-American in 2005, had been playing in the shadow of Johnson and junior Joe McKnight the past few seasons, so when he finally got his opportunity, he didn’t let it slip away.
Much like the contrasting styles of LenDale White and Reggie Bush, Bradford has become the thunder to McKnight’s lightning. McKnight has finally been living up to the hype that surrounded him during his first two years. He leads the team in almost every rushing category, with 97 carries for 634 yards (an average of 6.4 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.
With Barkley’s maturation and USC’s unstoppable ground game, the Trojans should give the Ducks quite a fright on Halloween night.
And unfortunately for Oregon, ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Eugene, broadcasting game coverage around the nation. It’s a well-known fact that Carroll’s Trojans play their best games when the national spotlight is on them.
So have no fear, Trojan fans. While Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Corso spend the entire day hyping the game, debating the winner and pumping optimism into the Oregon faithful’s’ bloodstream, there is no need to worry.
After Corso dons his Trojan costume and the Trojans take care of business, it will be hard to imagine the national title game without USC.
“Spittin’ Sports” runs Fridays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Kenny at email@example.com.