USC Trojans: Ohio State Buckeyes

MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.

The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

The 10 most memorable BCS moments

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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With the door closed on the 16-year reign of the BCS, we dove into the 72 BCS bowl games to find the 10 most memorable moments of the BCS era.

10. Utah’s hook-and-ladder: The first team ever dubbed a “BCS Buster” was the Urban Meyer-coached and Alex Smith-led Utah Utes in 2004. In the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Utah led Pittsburgh 28-7 late in the third quarter and lined up at the Panthers’ 18-yard line. Smith swung it left to Steven Savoy, who lateraled to Paris Warren, who ran it in for the score as the Utes completed a 12-0 season.

9. Peerless Price down the sideline: Tennessee led Florida State 14-9 with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl with the first BCS Championship on the line. UT quarterback Tee Martin found Price down the right sideline, and Price took it the distance for a 79-yard score. Price had 199 receiving yards for the winning Vols, the most ever in the BCS title game.

8. Ginn’s costly return: Ohio State received the opening kickoff from Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship game, and Ted Ginn Jr. wasted no time in getting the game’s first score on a 93-yard return. What will always be remembered, however, is that Ginn suffered a foot injury on the ensuing celebration and was out for the rest of the Buckeyes’ 41-14 loss.

7. Warrick's juggling score: Though the championship of the 1999 season was marked by Virginia Tech freshman QB Michael Vick, it was Florida State’s Peter Warrick who was named the most outstanding player. He had a punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and his juggling catch on a 43-yard score midway through the fourth served as the dagger.

6. Vince Young, Part I: Facing Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Young was responsible for all five Texas touchdowns in a 38-37 win. Though he had runs of 60, 23 and 20 yards, the most impressive was a 10-yard run in which Young escaped the tackle of Michigan lineman Pat Massey before scampering to the right pylon.

5. Dyer isn’t down: Tied at 19 with Oregon with just more than two minutes remaining in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared to be tackled for a short gain at the Auburn 45-yard line. Having rolled over the defender, Dyer was never ruled down, and ended up gaining 37 yards on the play before he was taken down at the Oregon 23-yard line. Auburn would win on a field goal as time expired.

[+] EnlargeBoise
Steve Grayson/WireImageIan Johnson's two-point conversion run in overtime propelled Boise State over heavily favored Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
4. Winston to Benjamin: Trailing Auburn 31-27 in the final BCS Championship Game, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston drove the Noles 78 yards in less than a minute to the Auburn 2-yard line. Receiving the snap with 17 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter, Winston threw a perfect pass to Kelvin Benjamin, who brought it down for the game-winning score to complete an undefeated season.

3. Was it pass interference? Some will remember Maurice Clarett’s game-saving strip of Sean Taylor, but the lasting legacy of the game is the dubious pass interference call in overtime. Miami led 24-17 and Ohio State faced fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference, giving the Buckeyes new life in a game they would win 31-24.

2. Boise State’s trick plays: In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State trailed heavily favored Oklahoma 35-28 with 18 seconds left and facing fourth-and-18 from the 50-yard line. Jared Zabransky completed a pass to Drisan James just short of the first down, but he lateraled it to Jerard Rabb, who took it the rest of the way for the tying touchdown. In overtime, down 42-35 on fourth down, wide receiver Vinny Perretta completed a 3-yard pass to Derek Schouman for a touchdown. Chris Petersen elected to go for two, and Zabransky faked a throw to his right before handing it behind his back to Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty play for the winning two-point conversion. Johnson would propose to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, on the sideline after the game.

1. Vince Young, Part II: After a Longhorns touchdown and key fourth-down stop, undefeated Texas trailed undefeated USC 38-33 with 26 seconds remaining and faced fourth-and-5 from the 9-yard line, with the 2005 BCS championship on the line. Vince Young dropped back to pass but saw nobody open, and immediately sprinted for the right pylon for the title-winning score in the marquee game of the BCS era.

CB Tony Brown suffers shoulder injury

December, 31, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cornerback Tony Brown, No. 11 in the ESPN 300 and the No. 2 prospect in Texas, suffered an injury to his left shoulder on Tuesday and likely will not play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

Brown, of Beaumont Ozen High School, was hurt while reaching to defend a pass in a non-contact coverage drill. He received medical attention at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and was transported from the practice facility by cart, his head buried in his hands and his arm in a sling.

The 6-foot, 196-pound Brown, rated as the No. 4 cornerback nationally, is scheduled to announce his college decision during the 4 p.m. telecast of the Under Armour Game Thursday on ESPN.

Brown made official recruiting visits to Ohio State, Alabama, Texas, USC and LSU.

He graduated from high school early in order to enroll in January at his college of choice. Brown is an elite sprinter and plans to compete in football and track and field in college.

3-point stance: Buckeyes’ tough task

October, 28, 2013
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1. The new BCS standings illustrate how difficult it’s going to be for No. 4 Ohio State to move up in the ratings. No. 5 Stanford’s next game is against No. 2 Oregon. No. 6 Baylor’s next game is against No. 10 Oklahoma. No. 7 Miami’s next game is against No. 3 Florida State. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are the only Big Ten team in the top 20. Their strength of schedule isn’t going to provide the fuel they need to keep up with their competitors.

2. Oregon State leads the FBS in passing offense with 420.8 yards per game, even after Stanford limited the Beavers to 271 passing yards and one touchdown in a 20-12 defeat on Saturday. What’s amazing though, is that the next four places in passing offense are Texas schools: Baylor, Texas Tech, SMU and Texas A&M. And yes, we know, every other NFL team has a Texas native at quarterback. But still, just a generation ago, all Texas high schools played was option football. It’s a startling shift.

3. When USC appointed defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron to replace Lane Kiffin as interim head coach, that left an opening. Orgeron called fellow southerner Pete Jenkins, generally recognized as one of the best defensive line coaches in pro or college ball of this generation. Jenkins, 72, who has been retired for three years, does contract work with potential draftees, although don’t call him a consultant. With the Trojans, he said, “I am a substitute teacher for the rest of the year.”

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
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Both Ted and Kevin went 9-1 last week, both missing on picking USC to beat Washington State.

For the year, Kevin is 18-2 and Ted is a miserable 17-3.

STANFORD at ARMY

Kevin Gemmell: The Cardinal thrive on efficiency, and they were very efficient in their season opener. Army is hardly the test San Jose State was. It makes its living by running the ball, averaging 329 yards on the ground through the first two weeks. Guess which team loves for teams to run at them? … Stanford 38, Army 7.

Ted Miller: Army is not going to win this football game, but on a week when we remember 9/11, let's tip our cap to those guys. I'm sure they'll compete hard and make sure Stanford comes back west knowing it played a football game. … Stanford 35, Army 10.

FRESNO STATE at COLORADO

Gemmell: The Buffs probably lose this one. It was a nice couple of games. They got a little momentum, doubled their win total from last season and generated a little excitement early in the rebuilding process. Fresno State has some weapons. Then again, as Ben Bradlee famously said during the Watergate investigation: “[Bleep] it, let’s stand by the boys.” … Colorado 31, Fresno State 28.

Miller: Colorado has already shown it's a better football team than it was in 2012. Better will make this one closer than last season -- way closer. But Fresno State might be the nation's best non-AQ team. … Fresno State 38, Colorado 30.

TENNESSEE at OREGON

Gemmell: Had he taken the Colorado job, Butch Jones would have had to wait two more weeks to get blown out by the Ducks. At least now he gets it out of the way sooner. Look for those little mistakes Oregon had last week to disappear as the Ducks return home. … Oregon 48, Tennessee 17.

Miller: There is a level of intrigue for this game based on the Volunteers having a great offensive line and the Ducks being somewhat questionable at linebacker. Is that enough to keep it close? Probably not. … Oregon 44, Tennessee 20.

OHIO STATE at CALIFORNIA

Gemmell: The Buckeyes showed some depth against San Diego State last week when Braxton Miller went down. That doesn’t bode well for a Cal defense that is rife with injuries right now. The Bears can put up points. No one is disputing that. Stopping people is the bigger priority right now. … Ohio State 38, Cal 27.

Miller: The Buckeyes are going to pile up rushing yards, whether Miller plays or not. So can the Bears pile up passing yards to match them, score for score? Maybe for a little while, but not for four quarters. … Ohio State 40, California 21.

WISCONSIN at ARIZONA STATE

Gemmell: Welcome to the desert, where the temperature at kickoff is expected to be a toasty 102 degrees. But it won’t be the heat that burns the Badgers. It will be ASU’s precision efficiency, which is amplified when Taylor Kelly plays at home. In eight career home games, he has 19 TDs to three INTs and is completing 74.2 percent of his throws. … Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 24.

Miller: But it's a dry heat! My question is whether the Sun Devils defense will be able to stand up to the relentless power-rushing attack of the Badgers. My guess is both teams will be pretty darn worn out by the end of the game. Kevin thinks the UCLA-Nebraska game was the toughest pick this week. This was it for me. … Arizona State 24, Wisconsin 23.

OREGON STATE at UTAH

Gemmell: Two weeks ago, I said I would pencil this in as an Oregon State win. Pencils have erasers. The Beavers have all sorts of issues on defense, and the Utes are playing with a confidence we’ve rarely seen since they joined the league. I think Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have a big day, but I think Travis Wilson & Co. have a bigger day. … Utah 31, Oregon State 27.

Miller: This feels like a HUGE game for both teams. As in, neither will accomplish its goals this season if it loses. I like the matchup with a more mature Travis Wilson against the injury-riddled Beavers defense, but I also think Mannion and Cooks have an edge versus the Utes' questionable secondary. The edge for the Utes is playing at home. … Utah 38, Oregon State 35.

UTSA at ARIZONA

Gemmell: The Wildcats still haven’t put it all together. But, once again, their schedule allows for tweaking and growing. Ka'Deem Carey's return was as spectacular as expected, and the defense continues to show signs of improvement. I suspect we’ll learn more about the Wildcats when they open league play on Sept. 28 against Washington. For now, they’ll continue to tweak their way to another win. … Arizona 42, UTSA 21.

Miller: I'm with Kevin. I'm ready to see Arizona get tested. The Wildcats' big goal in this game is fleshing out a passing attack that has been poor to middling in the first two games. … Arizona 48, UTSA 17.

BOSTON COLLEGE at USC

Gemmell: A whole week for Cody Kessler to take the first-team snaps might do wonders. But, for now, if the Trojans do win, it will continue to be on the coattails of the defense, which has been outstanding, and that’s getting lost in all of this quarterback mess. … USC 31, Boston College 17.

Miller: Forget Lane Kiffin for a moment. What about the players? Do they have pride? Or are they ready to wave a white flag on their season and their head coach? I think we'll see USC bounce back, but I'm far from certain of it. … USC 24, Boston College 17.

SOUTHERN UTAH at WASHINGTON STATE

Gemmell: The worst thing in the world would be an emotional letdown. Don’t see it happening. The offense gets back on track this week and the defense continues to improve in Year 2 under Mike Breske. The Air Raid should be in full effect this week. … Washington State 48, Southern Utah 10.

Miller: Washington State is going to win this game, but the Cougars need to get their offense back in sync. That means enough running game to keep a defense honest and more than 300 passing yards. We'll see both on Saturday. … Washington State 51, Southern Utah 13.

UCLA at NEBRASKA

Gemmell: By far the toughest game to pick this week. It all comes down to which defense can better contain the other’s quarterback. I think the bye week was a good thing for the Bruins, though this week will certainly be emotionally trying with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale. They have on film what they did right and wrong versus a mobile quarterback from the Nevada game. I think they put that film to good use. …UCLA 36, Nebraska 31.

Miller: Both teams have good offenses, but I think the UCLA defense is better. Further, I like Brett Hundley to take control in the fourth quarter and Anthony Barr to make some game-changing plays against Taylor Martinez. … UCLA 40, Nebraska 31.

WASHINGTON at ILLINOIS (in Chicago)

Gemmell: This is the next big test for the Huskies: Can they be as productive on the road? They come off the bye week healthy and rested, and the return of Austin Seferian-Jenkins gives Keith Price another outstanding weapon. Looking for the Huskies to take a big step forward. … Washington 35, Illinois 24.

Miller: If the Huskies play like they did against Boise State, they will roll. I expect them to. I also expect Seferian-Jenkins to have a big game, both catching the ball and blocking for Bishop Sankey against a middling defense. … Washington 41, Illinois 20.

Pac-12 lunch links: Richardson humble

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, "I love my best friend, Evan."


The Pac-12 will establish its national identity on Saturday. Simple as that.

Every Pac-12 team plays. No byes this week, my friends. There's one conference game, Oregon State at Utah, that is critical to both teams. Eight of the nonconference foes are unbeaten at 2-0. Six of those teams are from AQ conferences, including four matchups with the Big Ten. Three are against ranked teams. Fresno State, which is visiting Colorado, is the equivalent of 28th in the AP poll. Three Pac-12 teams are underdogs.

Three teams are traveling across multiple times zones. Six teams will be televised on either ABC, ESPN, Fox or Fox Sports 1.

It's a big weekend, folks. It's "measuring stick"weekend.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesJim Mora Jr. leads the Bruins into Lincoln, Neb., in a big game for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
Sure, Stanford (Army), Washington State (Southern Utah) and Arizona (UTSA) aren't playing marquee matchups. But nine other Pac-12 teams can make a resonating, national statements about the trajectory of their seasons if they win on Saturday.

The underdogs are Colorado, California, which plays host to No. 4 Ohio State, and UCLA, which visits No. 23 Nebraska.

Colorado is looking to redeem itself for a white-flag performance at Fresno in 2012, a humiliating 69-14 defeat that wasn't even as close as the final score indicates, seeing that it was 35-0 after one quarter. If the Buffs pull the upset, it would establish the Pac-12 as a patsy-less conference with no easy outs.

Cal nearly won at Ohio State a year ago, more than physically matching the Buckeyes, who would go undefeated. That game, in fact, is probably why there's a lot of skepticism -- cough, cough -- about how good the Buckeyes actually are. The good news is Cal is at home. The bad news is the Bears nearly lost there a week ago to Portland State, an FCS team.

Perhaps the most meaningful game for the conference is the Bruins-Cornhuskers matchup, mostly because both teams are ranked. Last year, UCLA prevailed as an underdog, 36-30, in Week 2, and that victory immediately gave the Bruins and new coach Jim Mora national legitimacy and presaged a turnaround season in Westwood. The Bruins also are dealing with the shocking death of receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car over the weekend.

A victory by the 16th-ranked Bruins could push them close to the nation's top 10 and set them up for a 5-0 start before getting the most arduous road double in the country this fall: at Stanford, at Oregon on back-to-back weekends starting Oct. 19.

UCLA's South Division rival, unranked Arizona State, is favored by 5 points over No. 20 Wisconsin, which is interesting. While many still seem to question second-year coach Todd Graham's crew, Vegas apparently does not. But lines only mean so much. The one thing missing from the Sun Devils strong 2012 campaign was a victory over an A-list foe. The burly Badgers are an A-list foe.

Speaking of favorites, Oregon is giving 27 points to an SEC team, Tennessee. That's a pretty substantial sign of respect. But, of course, it also establishes an expectation. If the Ducks win, say, 28-17, there will be more than a few smirks in SEC country and among some media folks who fawn on the conference. Style, which Oregon typically has in abundance, matters in this one.

Washington has struggled on the road of late, going 3-10 away from Seattle the past two seasons. Further, Illinois (2-0) might be better than expected; so it's not about style points for the Huskies. It's just about winning and maintaining the positive momentum the program ignited with the opening win over Boise State. Of course, an impressive victory could push the Huskies into the nation's top 15.

USC could use some style -- any at all on offense. The visit from Boston College looked like a walk-over for the Trojans in the preseason, but now it feels like a must-win for coach Lane Kiffin. It's difficult to imagine USC's season turning around after a 1-2 start, which could doom Kiffin.

Then there's Oregon State's visit to Utah. In the preseason, the Beavers looked like a decided favorite for this one, but then they lost their opener to Eastern Washington. Meanwhile, the Utes have surged, getting surprisingly good play from true sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson. An Oregon State win likely would restore confidence and make the Eastern Washington loss look more flukish. A Utah victory would make the Utes look like a bowl team and inspire an edit of preseason expectations.

Finally, there's the three teams playing lesser foes. We have three words for each of you: Don't blow it.

If the Pac-12 wins eight of these 10 nonconference games, it would substantially boost the major preseason storyline for the conference: The Pac-12 is as deep in quality as it has been in years and is in the running for the mythical title of nation's best conference.

But if it wins just five or six games, the measuring stick would be broken in half. The perception of the conference would sink, and there would be little chance to salvage it. At least until the bowl season.

Quick look at Week 3 Pac-12 games

September, 9, 2013
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Here's a quick look at Week 3 in the conference. All games are on Saturday and times are ET.

No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0), noon, ABC: Series tied at 6-6. UCLA won 36-30 last year in the Rose Bowl. With 4,014 career passing yards, sophomore QB Brett Hundley needs 74 yards to move into UCLA’s top-10 list, passing former Bruin and 1967 Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban (4,087 yards). In the season-opener, Hundley connected with 10 different receivers. In last year’s win over Nebraska, the Bruins had 653 yards in total offense (344 rush/309 pass).

No. 5 Stanford (1-0) at Army (1-1), noon, CBS Sports Network: Series is tied 5-5. Army won the last meeting 17-13 in 1979. Stanford senior FS Ed Reynolds had a game-high 12 tackles (9 solo) to go with an interception in Stanford’s 34-13 victory over San Jose State. His interception extended Stanford’s streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 25, the longest streak in the nation. Stanford’s current streak of being in the top five of the AP poll for three consecutive ranking periods is one week shy of the school’s best of four weeks achieved during the 1940 season.

Fresno State (2-0) at Colorado (2-0), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Colorado leads the series 4-2, but Fresno State stomped the Buffaloes, 69-14, last year. In that game, Colorado was outgained 665 yards to 278. The Bulldogs rolled up 288 yards rushing. It was 35-0 after the first quarter, and it was 55-7 at the half. So, yeah, the Buffs should be motivated. Junior WR Paul Richardson grabbed 10 receptions for 208 yards in the season opener, then tallied 11 receptions for 209 yards in the win over Central Arkansas. It’s the first time in Pac-12 history that a receiver has posted back-to-back games of 200 or more yards receiving. The Buffs are looking to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

Boston College (2-0) at USC (1-1), 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network: USC leads the series 3-0. The Trojans last beat BC 24-13 in the 2009 Emerald Bowl. The Washington State pass defense held USC to 54 yards on 11 completions (4.9 ypc), while limiting All-American Marqise Lee to 27 yards on seven catches. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin named Cody Kessler the starting QB on Monday. The Trojan defense is playing well. It held Washington State to 7 yards rushing and now leads the nation in rushing defense (allowing 15.0 ypg) as well as sacks with 11 (5.5 per game)

Tennessee (2-0) at No. 2 Oregon (2-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN: Oregon leads the series 1-0. It won 48-13 at Tennessee in 2010. In that game, the Ducks trailed 13-3 before scoring the final 45 points. Through two games, the Ducks have posted five 100-yard rushing performances -- two by De'Anthony Thomas, two by Marcus Mariota and one by Byron Marshall. Mariota is the first Oregon QB to rush for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games. Eight of Oregon’s nine scoring drives last week against Virginia were accomplished in under two minutes. That’s 17 of 19 scoring drives this season in less than two minutes (the other two drives were 2:11 and 3:08).

No. 19 Washington (1-0) at Illinois (2-0), 6 p.m., Big Ten Network: Washington leads the series 5-4. The Huskies won the last meeting 52-14 in Champaign. Illinois beat Washington in the 1964 Rose Bowl. The Huskies have now appeared in back-to-back AP polls for the first time since the 2003 season. Senior QB Keith Price has 56 TD passes in his career, most in school history, and ranks 25th all-time in the Pac-12. Junior RB Bishop Sankey has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of the last six games. He’s gained 368 yards over his last two games.

Southern Utah (2-0) at Washington State (1-1), 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting between the two programs. With its 10-7 win over Southern Cal, Washington State snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans. It was the Cougars' first win in The Coliseum since 2000. WSU leads the Pac-12, and is sixth in the FBS, allowing just 72.8 passing yards per game.

No. 4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7 p.m., Fox: Ohio State leads the series 6-1, including a 35-28 win last year in Columbus. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff has thrown for 930 yards in two games. His two-game total is just eight yards shy of the Pac-12 record two-game total of 938 yards set by former Cal Bear Pat Barnes in 1996. Barnes posted 435 yards vs. UCLA, then followed with a school-record 503 yards vs. Arizona. The last time Cal hosted a nonconference foe ranked among the top five was No. 4 Nebraska in 1998 (lost, 24-3).

Oregon State (1-1, 0-0) at Utah (2-0, 0-0), 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Oregon State leads the series 9-6-1, including a 21-7 win in Corvallis last year. Oregon State's junior QB Sean Mannion threw for 372 yards and four TDs in the win over Hawaii. It was fifth time he’s thrown for 350 or more yards in a game, while it was the sixth time he’s tossed three or more TD passes in a game. The Utes set a school mark for points in a quarter with 35 in the second of the 70-7 win over Weber State. This is the second time in school history Utah has amassed 100 points in the first two games (1973; 29-22 loss at Texas Tech, 82-6 win vs. UTEP). Sophomore QB Travis Wilson has connected on 31-of-47 for 566 yards and 5 TDs this season. His 202.2 passing efficiency rating ranks eighth in the FBS and second in the Pac-12.

UTSA (1-1) at Arizona (2-0), 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After serving a one-game suspension and missing the first quarter, junior RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed 171 rushing yards on 16 carries (10.7 ypc) and 2 TDs, including a 56-yard TD run on his first carry of the season. Carey has 31 rushing TDs, second on the school’s career list. (UA record is 44 by Art Lupino, 1953-56). Junior S Tra'Mayne Bondurant added his FBS-leading third interception of the season with a pick he returned 52 yards for a TD, his second return this season for a score.

No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 10:30 p.m., ESPN: Arizona State leads 2-1, but the Badgers won a 20-19 thriller in 2010. Arizona State is 8-0 vs. the Big Ten at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils committed just one penalty for 5 yards in their season-opening win over Sacramento State. ASU led the Pac-12 last season with just 55 penalties (4.2 per game) for 454 yards (34.9 ypg). Junior QB Taylor Kelly completed 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards and a career high-tying five TDs in the blowout win over Sacramento State. He has a streak of 102 straight pass attempts without an interception dating back to last year, which currently stands fourth nationally. His touchdown passes of 16, 41, 24, 33 and 26 yards, all went to five different receivers. Dating back to the final three games of the 2013 season, Kelly has gone 76-of-102 (.745) with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 1,005 yards.

Best case-worst case: USC

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
1:30
PM PT
This is the sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: USC

Best case

Lane Kiffin glowers at the ocean from his Manhattan Beach home. He is disquieted, even with his favorite Eric Clapton song playing in the background. The waves roar at him under an unusually cloudy August day in Southern California.

"Now is the season of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of Bruin," he says. "And all the clouds that Mora'd upon our house, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

Kiffin picks up a copy of the LA Times. He throws it onto a pile where ESPN Magazine, Sports Illustrated and the Orange County Register lay. "Hot seat, hot seat, hot seat!" he says. "I have been rudely stamp'd!"

He turns on the TV and with an exaggerated, irritated emphasis, he flips the channels until he arrives on ESPN.

"And therefore — since I cannot prove a media favorite -- to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain," Kiffin says. "And hate the idle pleasures of these Pac-12 days!”

He watches interviews of UCLA coach Jim Mora, Stanford coach David Shaw and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. He smirks.

He says, "Winning is the thing wherein I'll catch the catch the conscience of the Pac-12 kings! And keep my job."

A few days later, on Aug. 23, Kiffin stands before reporters.

"Cody Kessler is going to be our starting quarterback," Kiffin says. "He doesn't have the biggest arm and he's not built like an NFL quarterback, but he played this best during fall camp. I like his moxie. Sometimes even USC needs moxie."

USC rolls over Hawaii and Washington State, dominates Boston College and thrashes Utah State. Kessler throws just one interception against 10 touchdown passes, while the defense dominates, not yielding more than 20 points during the 4-0 start. The Trojans rise to No. 10 in the national rankings.
Kevin Gemmell: Boy, the Trojans drowned those first four teams in malmsey butt.

Ted Miller: What's malmsey butt?

Gemmell: It's ... I have no idea. I was just trying to stick to your Richard III deal.

Things, however, go off the tracks at Arizona State. The Trojans are flagged eight times for 85 yards and turn the ball over three times in the first half as they trail the Sun Devils 21-3.

"Have we eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?" Kiffin barks in the locker room. "Men, settle down. We only need to focus on one thing. Win the next play. Stop over thinking this. Win the next play. Beat the guy in front of you. Win the next play and then do it again. That is all."

Kessler throws three touchdown passes to Marqise Lee in the third quarter, and Silas Redd, Justin Davis and Tre Madden wear down the undersized Sun Devils defense in the fourth, as the Trojans roll to 42-24 win.

During the bye week, a column on the front of the LA Times sports page asks: "Is Kiffin becoming a good coach?"

Scoffs Kiffin, "Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving."

The Trojans blow out Arizona and head to Notre Dame at 6-0. Lee turns South Bend into his own little play pen, catching four touchdown passes and going the distance on a kickoff return.

The fourth-ranked Trojans roll over Utah and then, with Lee on the cover of Sports Illustrated, head to Corvallis.
Gemmell: Just tapping some things into the "Uh Oh Calculator" here. We've got USC going to Corvallis and USC on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Miller: And don't forget my 3,000-word story on the certainty that the Trojans would play for the national title this week!

The Trojans miss a 27-yard field goal with 20 seconds left and Oregon State prevails 28-27, which is USC's fourth consecutive loss in Corvallis.

USC bounces back with a win at California. Then No. 7 Stanford comes to town, fresh off a loss to No. 2 Oregon. The Cardinal have won four in a row in the series with USC and five of the last six matchups.

"Stanford has just dominated us," Kiffin says in his Tuesday news conference. "They are a more physical team than we are. So we're going to need to find ways to make this game less about the line of scrimmage."

On the first play after the kickoff, Kessler lines up behind center and hands off to Redd. On second and 6, he lines up in the shot gun. On third and 1, he rushes the Trojans to the line of scrimmage, takes the shotgun snap and connects with Lee for a 30 yard gain.
Announcer: It appears that Lane Kiffin is going to run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Basically his two-minute offense.

Color analyst: Of course, Stanford saw the nation's best up-tempo offense last week against Oregon, and it faces a lot of up-tempo schemes, but you have to think this is a bit of a curveball for defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

USC takes a 14-10 lead into halftime.

The Trojans get a stop on Stanford's first possession of the second half. They take over on their 31. Kessler is back under center. On first down, he pitches to Redd for six yards. On second down, he pitches to Redd for four yards. On first down, he pitches to Davis for three years. On second down, he pitches to Davis for 10 yards.
Announcer: Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty. After running a no-huddle offense and throwing 29 times in the first half, Kiffin has pulled a page from John McKay's old playbook.

Color analyst: Student body right, student body left. An I-formation, a simple toss with big linemen and a fullback leading the way. It seems Kiffin, after calling Stanford physically dominant all week, might have been playing opossum.

The Trojans rush for 210 yards in the second half against the nation's No. 1 run defense and win 35-20.
Miller: That was genius, Lane! Like I've said all along, you should call your own plays. It's your team and I've always thought you were a great play caller.

Kiffin: That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain — At least I am sure it may be so with the Pac-12 blog.

Miller: Lane, you need to lighten up. That's the next step. Maybe you should read some Christopher Moore?

Kiffin: Knavery's plain face is never seen till us'd!

The Trojans, who climb to No. 4 in the national polls, batter Colorado and improve to 11-1. Up next: No. 10 UCLA, which is 9-2, having only lost to Oregon and Stanford. The battle for the Victory Bell also will decide the Pac-12 South Division title.

"Do I remember my non-block that allowed Anthony Barr to sack Barkley and end his USC career?" Trojans offensive tackle Aundrey Walker says, rephrasing a reporter's question. "The one in which Barr made fun of me at Pac-12 media day? The one that typified our 2012 season? The play that should haunt me until I redeem myself? No. I've not thought about that once."

The Trojans score on their first five possessions and blow out the Bruins, who turn the ball over five times. Barr doesn't even touch Kessler all day. With 2:30 left, Kiffin goes for 2 to make the final count 51-0.
Kiffin: Well, we beat them 50-zip in 2011, so I didn't want the same final number again.

Reporter: It will be construed that Lane Kiffin was running up the score, that he has no conscience.

Kiffin: Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe.

No. 2 Oregon beats the Trojans 33-31 in the Pac-12 championship game when Alejandro Maldonado kicks a 58-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

Lee wins USC's eighth Heisman Trophy.

The Ducks whip Alabama 40-10 to win the national title. The Trojans dominate previously unbeaten Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl. The final polls rank Oregon No. 1 and USC No. 2.

UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington also win bowl games, with seven Pac-12 teams finishing ranked in the final polls.

"Good," says Kiffin. "We want Oregon and UCLA and the rest of the conference to be strong. It's no fun to rule the weak."

Worst case

On Aug. 23, Kiffin stands before reporters.

"Max Wittek is going to be our starting quarterback," Kiffin says. "He didn't play as well as Cody Kessler in the spring or in preseason camp, but he's big and tall and has a good arm. He looks the part. You media sorts don't understand that it's better to look good than to be good."

Wittek plays fairly well during a 4-0 start -- Marqise Lee leads the nation with 768 yards receiving -- and he needs to because the Trojans new defensive scheme is inconsistent, yielding an average of 30 points in the season's first third.

The Trojans rise to No. 13 in the rankings.
Kevin Gemmell: We'll get a better measure of USC at Arizona State, Wittek's first road start against an A-list defense.

Ted Miller: The Sun Devils will certainly test the Trojans play caller.

Arizona State leads USC 24-20 with one minute left, but a long Wittek pass to Lee gives the Trojans a first and goal at the Sun Devils 1-yard line.

Consecutive QB sneaks are stopped for no gain by Will Sutton, Kiffin perhaps thinking he could fool the Sun Devils by running his quarterback at the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12.

After the Trojans final time out, Silas Redd is stopped by Sutton for no gain on third down. The clock says: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... baaaa! Game over. Arizona State wins.
Announcer: Three words: Clock freaking managment.

Color analyst: Just wow.

Kiffin: I'm still going to call plays.

After an off-week, the Trojans are flat in a 28-24 home loss to Arizona. They get buried 28-10 at Notre Dame, with Wittek throwing three interceptions.

USC athletic director Pat Haden release a statement saying he's "100 percent behind Lane Kiffin and there is no hot seat."

The Trojans slip Utah 20-17, go down at Oregon State but improve to 6-4 with a road win at California.

"Being bowl eligible while under NCAA sanctions is a good thing," Kiffin says. "USC fans are too greedy, always believing they can win championships."

Stanford runs over USC 30-10, but the Trojans pick up a seventh win at Colorado.

Up next: No. 10 UCLA, which has already clinched the Pac-12 South Division crown.
Miller: Did you know that when Richard III was whipped in the Battle of Bosworth Field it ended the Wars of the Roses and began the Tudor dynasty?

Gemmell: And for your purposes here, setting up an obvious connection, with Jim Mora/Richmond besting Lane Kiffin/Richard III and taking over the football dynasty in LA.

Miller: You want to do these best-case, worst-case stories next year?

Gemmell: No.

The Bruins batter USC 35-0, despite Mora clearing his bench in the fourth quarter and only calling running plays and no blitzes over the final five minutes. Anthony Barr has three of the Bruins five sacks, and Wittek is picked off twice.

"I know some Bruins fans want us to be merciless, but this program is about winning with class," Jim Mora says. "In Westwood, we hope to enrich this time to come with smooth-faced success, with smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!"

USC goes on to lose to Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, thereby finishing 7-7.

Bruins QB Brett Hundley leads the Bruins to an upset of No. 2 Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Hundley, after winning the Heisman Trophy, announces he will return for his redshirt junior season. He then leads the Bruins to a Rose Bowl win over Ohio State.

A news conference is called in Heritage Hall.

"It's been a tough year," Haden says. "But I continue to believe Lane Kiffin is the coach who will lead the Trojans back to greatness."

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

Coaches poll: USC preseason No. 24

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
12:18
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Oregon and Stanford lead the Pac-12 North Division heading into the preseason, and that's good enough to be ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in the USA Today coaches' poll released Thursday.

Two-time defending champion Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State, which went unbeaten last season but was ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, is No. 2.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, UCLA is 21st, USC 24th and Oregon State 25th.

No, North Carolina wasn't ranked.

Arizona State was the equivalent of 32nd. Arizona and Washington also received votes.

The SEC led all conferences with six ranked teams, five of which were in the top 10. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had five each.

The six Pac-12 coaches among the 62 voting in the poll this year are Arizona State's Todd Graham, Oregon's Mark Helfrich, Washington State's Mike Leach, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.

Hope springs in the Pac-12

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
12:43
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The 2013 season will be the final year of the BCS era.

And there was much rejoicing!

So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!

Best

1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesReggie Bush and USC ran away with the 2004 national title.
2. USC wins "real" national title: In 2003, USC was No. 1 in the AP and Coaches polls at season's end. If you had eyes and knew anything about football, it was clear the Trojans were the nation's most-talented team on both sides of the football, a notion that was reinforced the following season. Two teams picked by computers played in New Orleans -- most folks outside of Louisiana don't even remember who -- and that forced the Trojans to settle for three-fourths of a national title after dominating Michigan 28-14.

3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.

4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.

5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.

Worst

1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.

2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.

3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.

4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.

5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.

Florida commit looking at USC? 

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
11:50
AM PT
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Despite Florida's impressive 11-1 record this season and likely BCS bowl berth, there are a few committed recruits who are still looking at other options.

Florida linebacker commit Quinton Powell (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland) has been committed to the Gators since Feb. 18, but is now considering Miami and Southern Cal.

Quinton Powell
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comFour-star Florida linebacker commit Quinton Powell is ranked No. 80 overall in the ESPN 150. He is the No. 8 OLB in the class of 2013.
"I haven't set any dates or talked to any coaches yet," Powell said, "but I plan on going to USC and Miami."

Does USC have an edge in a tight game?

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
10:05
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Oregon's average margin of victory this season is 34 points. Its closest game was a 17-point win over Fresno State. Its closest Pac-12 game was a 22-point win over Arizona State.

But that doesn't even fully tell the story of the Ducks' dominance this year.

They've led six of eight foes by at least 28 points at halftime. The other two? They led Arizona by 13. They outscored the Wildcats 15-0 in the third. They led Washington State by only four. They outscored the Cougars 21-0 in the third.

Not only have the Ducks not played a close game this season, they haven't played a team that posed even a remote threat in the fourth quarter, when Oregon starters are eating orange slices and waving to their mommies and girlfriends.

So, if we were using a magnifying glass to look for any potential chinks in Oregon's decidedly spiffy and seemingly impenetrable armor when it visits USC on Saturday, the lack of experience in close games and high-pressure circumstances in the fourth quarter might be one.

What if the score is tied 28-28 with two minutes left? Who has the advantage? USC playing at home with a four-year starter at quarterback, or Oregon with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota running the show?

The conventional wisdom would say the Trojans.

"There is a concern about whether you've had to play a complete game or not, but they have so many returning guys that have played a lot of football," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. "I'm sure that's not a big concern of Chip's."

He's right. Oregon coach Chip Kelly isn't a guy who projects an image of worry, and that is the completely unsurprising case here.

"All the game situations that could occur in a game, we hit in practice during the week," he said.

That means the two-minute drill, end-of-half and end-of-game scenarios, the four-minute offense, slowing things down and bleeding the clock when you have a lead, etc.

As for Kelly, if you want to understand his end-of-game meticulousness in action, go back and review the fourth quarter of the 2009 Civil War, when the Ducks ran out the final six minutes of a 37-33 victory, converting a pair of clutch fourth downs in the process.

Of course, Kelly had Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback, a second-year starter and a notoriously cool customer. Mariota has a reputation for demonstrating grace under pressure, but it has yet to be showcased under the klieg lights. You never know until you do. Or don't.

On the other side of the ball, there's Matt Barkley. As a four-year starter, he's seen a little bit of everything. In 2009, as a true freshman, he led a thrilling, 14-play, 86-yard game-winning drive in the waning moments at Ohio State. At the time, it was widely viewed as the coronation of a budding superstar.

But it hasn't always been magic for Barkley in close games. He's 10-6 in his career in games decided by a touchdown or less and, notably, 0-2 this season. The final possession in the 21-14 loss to Stanford -- starting at the USC 11-yard line with 2:44 left -- was pretty much an unmitigated disaster.

So, just as Barkley turned in some of his best work as a freshman, there's no reason to believe Mariota can't handle a high-pressure fourth quarter with aplomb.

Further, there's the matter of USC making that scenario play out. In the preseason, this game projected as a potential nail-biter. Now more than a few folks expect Oregon to win going away.

Said Kiffin, "Obviously they've done a great job of blowing everybody out. As a coach you like that. You don't have to worry about [the fourth quarter]."

Barkley, Maynard are seeking positives

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
3:30
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Matt Barkley/Zach MaynardKyle Terada/US PresswireUSC's Matt Barkley and Cal's Zach Maynard are both aiming to get back to winning on Saturday.
California's visit to USC on Saturday features two quarterbacks looking for redemption. Bears QB Zach Maynard wants to redeem himself for a three-interception performance in last season's 30-9 loss to the Trojans.

And Trojans QB Matt Barkley? He's looking to redeem a more recent performance.

You might have heard: The then-No. 2 Trojans went down 21-14 at Stanford last weekend, with Barkley throwing a pair of interceptions and no touchdown passes while getting sacked four times.

You could make a case it was the worst performance of his career, but he had a lot of help. Or, rather, little of it. His offensive line was overwhelmed by the Cardinal, so he had no support from a running game and little time to pass. A Stanford defender seemed to be in his face just about every play.

"No matter how great the quarterback is, that will affect you," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.

You also might be able to at least partially excuse Maynard for his woeful performance against the Trojans last year. Cal rushed for just 35 yards -- 1.3 yards per carry -- amid a flurry of five total turnovers.

And Maynard is not the same QB he was last year. In fact, at sixth in the Pac-12, he ranks just one spot behind Barkley in pass efficiency at present.

"I think he feels the speed of the game a little bit better," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said when asked about how Maynard is different this season. "I think he manages the game better."

USC has won eight straight against California, the Bears last winning a triple-overtime classic in 2003. They haven't won in Los Angeles since 2000. And just about all of those games were much like last year: Blowouts.

There is pressure on Tedford as the Bears try to avoid a 1-3 start. Many fans in Berkeley are frustrated with the recent mediocre turn of the program. And there is pressure on Kiffin as he tries to right a team that a week ago was viewed as the top potential foil for the SEC to win a seventh consecutive national title. Kiffin showed his stress this week when he stomped out of a post-practice news conference, apparently peeved over an innocuous question.

Health -- the improving variety -- is notable for each. It appears the Trojans will get back starting center Khaled Holmes, who sat out the Stanford loss with an ankle injury. Cal certainly should benefit from the potential return of right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, tight end Richard Rodgers and defensive end Mustafa Jalil.

While Cal's recent history in this rivalry, particularly on the road, isn't good, the Trojans shouldn't feel safe by any stretch. The Bears showed they can go toe-to-toe on the road with an A-list foe at Ohio State last weekend, a game that included a breakout performance from speedy RB Brendan Bigelow. Further, the Bears have a tough front seven, particularly if Jalil is indeed ready to go.

If it's close, it will be interesting to see how things might stack up at kicker. USC's Alex Wood, the Trojans' backup, has yet to be allowed to attempt a field goal, while Cal's Vincenzo D'Amato missed all three of his attempts last weekend.

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