Before Oregon, USC must get by Arizona

If the Rose Bowl's the goal, this weekend's game against Arizona is just as big as any other game the USC Trojans will play this season.

And if the goal is the national championship, then the Trojans obviously can't afford a loss of any sort. Any slip-up the rest of the way will exclude 6-1 USC from title-game contention, because if the Trojans lose in the regular season, the Rose Bowl is the best they can do -- no matter whom they lose to.

Sure, Arizona has won just one of four Pac-12 games this season. But two of those losses have been by a combined nine points, and the Wildcats also topped a respectable Washington team by 35 and then-No. 18 Oklahoma State by 21.

Rich Rodriguez's team can play. Heck, the Wildcats could even play last year, when they were coached by Mike Stoops and came within a touchdown of beating the Trojans.

USC matches up just as well against Oregon as it does against Arizona. That's not to say the Wildcats are as good as the Ducks, because they're clearly not, looking at their head-to-head history.

But the Trojans were built from top to bottom to compete with Chip Kelly's Oregon squad. Look no further than the linebacker position, where the 210-pound Dion Bailey plays, for evidence of that.

Arizona is actually a great matchup for the USC defense, in that they'll have a chance to try to defend a high-flying, fast-paced offense before Oregon. The Wildcats have gained more yards per game than the Ducks so far, and Arizona quarterback Matt Scott is sort of a mini-Marcus Mariota.

The Arizona defense isn't nearly as good as Oregon's, though. If the Trojans have trouble putting up 40 points in Tucson on Saturday afternoon, then we'll know they'll have trouble doing it against the Ducks.

So, yes, the USC-Oregon game is what everyone's going to be talking about, assuming Oregon prevails over Colorado this weekend (a safe assumption) and USC tops Arizona (a not-nearly-as-safe one.) It'll be a sellout, it'll be a nice primetime start, and it'll be highly watched.

But this week's just as big as next week, really. And the week after the Oregon game -- when the Trojans host Arizona State -- is up there, too, because the Sun Devils only have one Pac-12 loss so far. They could potentially steal a Pac-12 title game bid with a win over USC.

USC must take both games against the Arizona schools seriously. They're not just Oregon bookends.