There is a lot on the line as USC gets ready to take on Oregon on Saturday at the Coliseum. The game may not have national title implications for both sides, but there is still plenty at stake in terms of the Pac-12 title and a potential Rose Bowl berth.
As much as the loss to Arizona stung the Trojans last weekend, the reality is that USC still controls its destiny for a berth in the conference title game. Right now, the Trojans are one of three teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses, and it just so happens the other two teams (Arizona State and UCLA) are on the USC schedule following Oregon.
If the Trojans can get by the Ducks -- and then get wins over the Sun Devils and Bruins -- it would possibly give USC home-field advantage for the conference title game. A victory in that game would then propel USC into a New Year’s Day berth at the Trojans’ home away from home, the Rose Bowl.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, of course, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. But just because it isn’t simple doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, it would represent one of the best finishes in USC history, especially if it also included a victory over unbeaten Notre Dame at the Coliseum.
Let’s face it: Very little about this season has been easy. The Trojans were expected to be a smooth-running machine with so many starters returning from a team that was on the rise at the end of last season. Through the first two months of 2012, however, there have been an unexpected number of sputtering moments mixed in with some bouts of inspired play. There have also been penalties and mental lapses fans just didn’t see coming from such a veteran group.
Even with all that, the Trojans still have a chance. And the scheduling gods didn’t mess around either, as the Ducks are next up and they have been as good as advertised.
Oregon has taken the Trojans’ spot atop the Pac-12 mountain in recent years, but there were legitimate questions coming into the season. The Ducks had lost stars at quarterback and running back -- players who had seen a lot of success -- and there was uncertainty about their replacements.
It’s a tribute to Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s system that the Ducks haven’t skipped a beat with the new starters. When you add a defense as good as any Oregon has put on the field in recent years, you have a team that has emerged as one of the favorites to reach the national title game. How perfectly did the stars align to have the Ducks visit the Coliseum at a time when the Trojans need a really big win?
Last year, USC’s victory over the Ducks was a huge step for a program looking to reclaim a place among the nation’s elite. This year, the result could make an even bigger statement on the direction of the program.
A victory for the Trojans would be a special start to a November march toward a Rose Bowl berth that would be a fitting ending for this team. A loss? Well, a loss puts this season in a place that no USC fan wants it to go. This much we know: The Ducks are coming to town on Saturday and the Trojans are going to need to be ready.