All year, USC coach Lane Kiffin has done a masterful job of hyping up each week's opponent for the Trojans, giving the best possible evaluation of the team the Trojans face on a weekly basis.
It's an old coaching strategy, one many of the younger college football coaches in the country now employ exhaustively. The goal is to raise the potential reward for beating the team in questionand lower the risk for losing.
Kiffin, the Trojans' second-year coach, didn't have to do that so much against Oregon this week.
But he still tried.
"It's hard to argue that they're not the hottest team in the country right now," Kiffin said Sunday of the fourth-ranked Ducks.
His evidence? They've beaten every team they've faced this season -- save for LSU, of course -- by at least two touchdowns. They just beat then-No. 4 Stanford by 23 in Palo Alto. And their 13-point loss to LSU to start off the season was a tough scenario, taking place in a supposed neutral site that favored the Tigers and playing without the services of top special-teamer and cornerback Cliff Harris.
To date, that game is the only time Oregon running back LaMichael James hasn't gotten at least four yards per carry. Freshman running back DeAnthony Thomas, a longtime USC commit, fumbled on back-to-back touches in the third quarter, which changed the score of the game from 16-13 LSU to 30-13 LSU in a matter of minutes. The eventual final score was 40-27 LSU.
That was a weird day for the Ducks, Kiffin maintains -- and a bit of a fluke, looking back on it.
“They’re a very different team than they were on that day,” Kiffin said.
And then the compliments start flowing: Oregon's offense is "unique," "extremely productive," Kiffin says, and "very difficult to get ready for" because it's "so different from what everybody else does." The Ducks' defense is also "really good" and "probably the best it's ever been there."
And the crowd -- oh, the crowd -- at 60,000-seat Autzen Stadium. Kiffin says it's "awesome" and provides three reasons for it being a notoriously hard place to play, in the following order: (1) the stadium's built to keep in sound, (2) there's a lot of "different weather" late in the year there and (3) the team is really good.
About his quarterback's postgame claim last week that Oregon was "better when we played them in the past," Kiffin said Matt Barkley didn't know what he was talking about.
"I believe Matt made that assessment without watching any film," Kiffin said. "Once he (starts watching some), I believe he'll change his view a lot."
There are two basic approaches to defending the Oregon offense: One is to add defensive approaches and confuse the Ducks with new sets that they haven't seen on film, and two is to limit defensive approaches so your own players are able to seamlessly stay on the field while the Ducks speed through all of their drives.
USC is going to do the second one, as the Trojans have essentially done all year after finding out last season that Monte Kiffin's NFL approach wouldn't work so well in the Pac-12.
Now the Kiffins just have to get their players to understand all the intricacies of the Oregon offense in the next four days, even though it's nothing like anything else they've seen this season. That's the challenge of playing the Ducks.
"There's nothing pro-style about it," Kiffin said. "It's very hard to prepare for in one week."