Although No. 9 Utah is regarded as the best team in the Pac-12 South, USC is the current division leader. Like most teams in the Pac-12, USC’s performance has been up and down this season. However, USC is one of the premier programs on the West Coast, and Oregon traveling to Los Angeles is one of the biggest challenges remaining in the Ducks schedule.
The Trojans have been an excellent home team this season, winning all four of their games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
As a blue-chip program located in the recruiting hotbed of Southern California, USC will always have the focus of the national spotlight. The Trojans earned some national buzz in week 2, defeating then-No. 23 Stanford 45-20 and opening the season 2-0.
In week 3, USC, like many Pac-12 programs this year, followed that performance with a gut-wrenching 30-27 loss to BYU. That was a bad loss to a mediocre BYU team that is now 3-4, and as a result, USC lost much of its national buzz.
The Trojans dramatically altered the College Football Playoff landscape in week 4 when they defeated No. 10 Utah at the Coliseum. Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. had 232 yards and a touchdown as the Trojans downed the Utes 30-23. That win helped solidify the notion that the Pac-12 is one of the most unpredictable conferences in college football — a conference in which any given team can win in any given week.
But once again, the Trojans followed a big win with a misstep, this time losing to then-No. 17 Washington, 28-14; third-string quarterback Matt Fink threw three interceptions in the game. The following week, USC played a strong game against its arch rivals, then-No. 9 Notre Dame, but ultimately lost 30-27. Notre Dame running back Tony Jones Jr. ran all over the USC defense to the tune of 176 yards.
Rather than shut down, USC went back to work and is now on a two-game winning streak, defeating Pac-12 South foes Arizona and Colorado in back-to-back weeks.
Last week against the Buffaloes, USC flirted with a loss, but quarterback Kedon Slovis threw a 37-yard touchdown to Pittman in the final minutes to give the Trojans a 35-31 win. USC controls its own destiny in the division race — if it wins out, they’ll represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara, California.
The Trojans rank in the middle of the Pac-12 in most statistical categories this season. They’re fifth in the conference in total yards per game this season and aren’t a great running team, averaging just 159 yards on the ground per game.
However, they are second in passing yards per game with 296. The Ducks struggled to contain Washington State’s air-raid offense last week, and the Trojans’ aerial attack presents a similar challenge. If USC is going to win this game, it’ll need a strong performance from Slovis through the air.
On defense, the Trojans are eighth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per game at 429, and opponents average 24 points per contest. One interesting tidbit to note is that USC is second in sacks with 22; Oregon is the current sacks leader with 23. Pressuring Herbert will be imperative for the Trojans.
To its credit, USC has played a tough schedule, playing two top-10 teams (Utah and Notre Dame) and decent non-conference opponents in BYU and Fresno State. USC has risen to the challenge this year and has a chance to earn its second Playoff-altering upset of the season against Oregon.