<
>

Are these Ducks as good as 2010?

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon's thing under Chip Kelly -- other than offensive pyrotechnics -- has been focus. Every game is a Super Bowl against a nameless, faceless opponent. Win the day. Don't look forward or backward.

But the Ducks know what happened Friday night when No. 2 Oklahoma State fell at Iowa State. They moved a click closer to playing -- again -- for the national title. Their chances have improved from decent to realistic in 24 hours.

Ah, but if the Ducks don't win the, er, night against USC, those championship hopes go "poof."

Not the Pac-12 championship, mind you. Oregon, after beating North Division rival Stanford last weekend, has a one-game cushion. But all the national title talk (A rematch with LSU? Best one-loss team?) would end.

Last year, Oregon waxed the Trojans 53-32 in the Coliseum, a game that was close, then wasn't. The good news for the Trojans is the Ducks aren't as good as they were last year. At least, that's what quarterback Matt Barkley said. There was some hemming and hawing afterwards, but along with coach Lane Kiffin talking in great detail about receiver Robert Woods' injuries (ankle, shoulder), it seemed that plenty of chatter was coming out the USC camp.

It was entertaining. And the Woods intrigue -- real or gamesmanship -- kept scribes typing. It's fair to say that USC is trying to have fun, perhaps playing this game up as its bowl game.

That said, Woods is banged up. He does have shoulder and ankle issues. The All-American candidate only caught two passes for five yards in last week's blowout win over Washington.

If Woods is limited, that's a big loss for Barkley in the passing game, though freshman Marqise Lee is an A-list alternative who has elevated his game of late.

As has the Trojans running game. It's a gee whiz notion, but if the Trojans can run well and pile up first downs, that means Oregon doesn't have the ball.

USC's defense also has improved this year. It's strong against the run. And it will be interesting to see what coordinator Monte Kiffin does with his second run at Kelly's spread-option.

It all starts with the run for Oregon, and that means LaMichael James. If James, the nation's leading rusher, puts up big numbers, he could sow up an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony for a second consecutive year.

USC is fully capable of pulling the upset, particularly if the Ducks have a post-Stanford hangover and show an uneven focus, something they didn't do in 2010.

Are these Ducks as good as the 2010 version? We're probably about to find out. And if the Ducks answer in the affirmative tonight, they may get another shot on the game's biggest stage to take that one final step.