<
>

Carroll: USC's Pac-10 slate is 'ridiculously difficult'

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Everyone asks USC coach Pete Carroll about how his top-ranked Trojans are going to keep from getting bored and yawning their way through a nine-game Pac-10 schedule.

Surely Carroll must talk to his team about taking the Conference of (The Trojans are the) Champions seriously, even though none of the plebeian masses are presently ranked, with each saddled with at least one inglorious defeat.

"No," said Carroll, pausing for a moment so all listeners would know that he thought little of the question.

"What would we address about that? We have a ridiculously difficult schedule going through the conference. We don't address where they are ranked or anything."

But won't he be concerned about his Trojans reading and hearing two messages over and over again in the coming weeks: 1. USC is super-duper awesome! 2. The Pac-10 is super-duper lame?

"We have a way we deal with our opponents and our scheduling that we have always done that has nothing to do with what everyone else thinks," he said. "Every game for us is a championships -- an enormous event and opportunity. It doesn't matter what the setting is."

That is mostly true, at least this season.

Every game is a championship for the Trojans because it's likely that any blemish on their record will knock them out of the national title hunt because their strength-of-schedule metric will be lagging, both in terms of the BCS computer rankings and the perception of pollsters filling out their top-25 ballots.

Of course, the Pac-10 schedule is typically where USC has the most trouble. The Trojans haven't lost a regular-season game to a nonconference foe since October of 2002 (Kansas State). Six of USC's seven total losses since that game came against Pac-10 foes.

Including, oh by the way, a 33-31 defeat in 2006 at Oregon State, which is where the Trojans begin their conference schedule Thursday.

Even if Carroll rejects the notion that game preparation should take into account external perceptions -- big games vs. not-so-big games -- don't believe for a second that he's above pulling out a predictable motivational ploy or two.

Like, say, reminding his veteran players how awful they felt after playing badly against the Beavers in 2006.

It doesn't appear, however, that many of the upperclassmen need to be reminded.

"I remember walking off that field not feeling too good about myself and having all these people run by me, yelling in my face how sorry we were, and how bad we were," defensive tackle Fili Moala said. "Stuff that really made me angry. Those are the types of things I think about during preparation."

Oregon State in 2006 is in some ways similar to Oregon State in 2008.

In 2006, the Beavers started 2-3, were blown out 42-14 at Boise State and started 0-2 in the Pac-10. But they then recorded a couple of solid wins to help regain their confidence before USC came calling and finished 10-4 and ranked 21st in the nation.

This season, the Beavers are 1-2 and were blown out 45-14 at Penn State and have started 0-1 in the conference but seemed to find their stride in a dominant 45-7 win over Hawaii.

So if they, say, win the turnover battle 4-0 again, they've got a chance to again complete one of those surprising season transformation that have typified the Beavers in recent years -- slow start, fast finish.

"This is our second chance to make a statement about our team," quarterback Lyle Moevao said.

Moevao is likely the linchpin of any upset hopes. He leads the Pac-10 with 307 yards passing per game, and it seems like the Beavers will have to pass to win, considering the Trojans rank sixth in the nation in run defense (51.5 yards per game).

"The main thing for them is bringing pressure with the guys up front and causing havoc in the backfield," Moevao said of the USC defense. "If we're able to get a few seconds back there we'll be able to take them up top and pick them apart."

The tough part is getting those few seconds.

USC has seven sacks -- all seven by defensive linemen -- in two games and has been able to get pressure on opposing QBs without resorting to jail-break blitzes.

Oregon State's offensive line, a huge question in the preseason, has held up fairly well, surrendering just four sacks.

That said, the Beavers entered last year's game against USC having allowed just eight sacks in their previous eight games but gave up nine -- yeah, nine -- against the Trojans, including 3.5 to then-true freshman end Everson Griffen.

When asked if he might use an extra blocker to help with protection, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said, "You need two blocking backs and three tight ends to really get the help that you need."

"When you look at their defense," Riley said, "things you normally like to do as part of your offense, you may have to take a step back and say, 'Can we do that considering how good a pass rusher this guy is? Can we leave this guy on an island for that length of time?'"

What else did Riley say about USC? How about this:

  • "This may be the best talent overall in all places that they've had."

  • "I don't think there are any true weaknesses."

  • "The balance of that team is extraordinary."

In other words, he gave a not unique assessment of USC, but also probably hoped the Trojans would get drunk on the praise.

But that won't happen, right?