USC wants to give Oregon nightmares

It is an ancient Trojan, dressed in cardinal & gold, and he holds you with his skinny hand. "There was an offense," quoth he.

He holds you with his glittering eye. You cannot choose but hear. And thus spake on that ancient Trojan: "It was a dark night, not unlike this one, when those black, feathered beasts with ghastly teeth flew at our noble Trojans from all directions. We were ranked No. 4 in all the land, the seven-time defending Pac-10 champions, when the darkwings sprung upon us with their evil plan and their, their GIMMICK offense. They scored and scored and gimmicked and gimmicked. They quashed our hearts within their fetid beaks in a 47-20 massacre on All Hallows Eve. It was our worst defeat in 12 years. Those dark wing'ed Ducks did slice and dice our noble Trojans for 613 yards! Our great leader, Brave, Brave Sir Pete Carroll bravely ran away to the North. And now, my friends, those demon birds have again emerged from Hades and are flying toward our house!"

(Cue "Psycho" shower scene music.)

You can almost hear the terrified gasps from the USC fans gathered for ghost stories around the campfire -- a neon deal because we're in Southern California -- recalling the Trojans getting the Michael Myers treatment at Oregon last Halloween.

On Oct. 30 of last year, USC was still USC -- one of the best programs in college football. Oh, the Trojans sometimes were upset -- they'd already been nipped by Washington before heading to Eugene -- but never by a decisive margin. Oregon changed that last year. With a bang.

And now the Ducks are the new Pac-10 frontrunners and the national title contenders. While, after being socked by NCAA sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban, USC is now cast in the unfamiliar role of spoiler, its moment in the national spotlight arriving only as an incidental to the Ducks' quest for perfection.

It's a role reversal. But perhaps not as much as you would think. The Ducks have won seven of 12 -- and two of the last three -- from USC, and this is the seventh straight USC-Oregon contest in which both teams have been ranked.

ESPN's "College GameDay" will be at the Coliseum for the seventh time, but it's not there because of the Trojans, who are ranked 24th in the AP poll. It's there to see if a top-ranked team can maintain its standing after Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, the three previous No. 1 teams, each wilted on the road with "College GameDay" on hand.

So maybe Oregon should worry about its own haunting on Halloween Eve with the albatross of "College GameDay" wrapped around its neck?

There's also the matter of the Ducks' computer problems. They rank No. 1 when being evaluated by beings who have eyes. They rank No. 8 when evaluated by machines, who we all know will shortly send Terminators to kill us all, even SEC fans.

The Ducks only have one "quality" win, though their 21-point victory over No. 13 Stanford was as good as any posted by the other national title contenders. Their other six opponents so far own losing records, though it's notable that they won by 11 at Arizona State, which lost by one at No. 10 Wisconsin.

But the BCS computers don't recognize subtle nuances such as looking unstoppable. Or margin of victory for that matter. Which is why Oregon needs to beat USC for the computers, and decisively beat USC to further impress pollsters.

As for USC, it views itself -- not unfairly, by the way -- as a team that is just a few seconds away from being undefeated and ranked in the top 10. Its two losses to Stanford and Washington came by a combined three points and both came on last-second field goals. The Trojans looked like their old selves on Oct. 18 when they dominated California 48-14 and have had an extra week to prepare for Oregon's ludicrous-speed offense.

That offense, by the way, averaged 7.7 yards per play and produced 25 plays of at least 10 yards in last year's game, which played out like a USC nightmare amid a sea of Oregon fans who donned black T-shirts for a Halloween "Blackout" in Autzen Stadium.

USC fans, however, are countering this go-around with their own stadium color suffusion, hoping to spring a nightmare on the Ducks with a plan to "Red Out the Coli," which encourages all USC fans to wear red -- Cardinal -- for the homecoming game.

Suffice it to say, one group of fans will be having a far happier Halloween than the other come Sunday.