Another season, and USC starts right where they left off, at the top of the conference. As vulnerable as they may be this year, they are still the favorite to win the conference, and rightly so. The coaching staff has proven year after year that they can develop talent and they will no doubt contend nationally again this year.
This year, USC is coming to Autzen on Halloween night, which is sure to be quite the experience, especially if both teams live up to expectations up to that point in the season.
Oregon Offense vs. USC Defense
The last few seasons, the Oregon offense has struggled against USC. Even the prolific 2007 offense scored only 24 points and were actually outgained in the game. While some have attributed that to some sort of deficiency with the spread offense, the real culprit is the fact that over the past few years the USC defense has been sickeningly loaded with talent and experience. As Matt Hinton pointed out earlier this week, excluding Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard as they are still playing at USC, every regular starter USC's defense over the past two years has been drafted, and nine of those players in the first two rounds.
The simply fact is, this type of talent will not be easy to replace, even for USC. And the across the board theme is inexperience. On the defensive line, they return tackle Christian Tupou, while having extremely talented ends in Nick Perry and Everson Griffen, though the knock on Griffen up this point in his career is that this talent has never been realized. At the linebacker spot, it's more of the same. The 2-deep has 8 "very highly touted" players, and the USC defensive coordinator has claimed this new unit is faster than last years dominant group. The only experienced unit is the USC secondary, which is led by Taylor Mays at safety and Josh Pinkard at cornerback. Mays is simply a physical freak that makes the entire unit better. Not only can he hit like TJ Ward, but has the speed to cover the entire field, which has helped makes USCs pass defense the best in the nation.
This will be a very good test for both the Oregon offense and the USC defense. Oregon's offensive line will hopefully have all its kinks worked out by the 8th game of the season, while USC will have to play very disciplined football to stop the Oregon offense. If Oregon's line does not get manhandled like it did in last year's game, then Oregon has a great shot to move the ball well.
Oregon Defense vs. USC Offense:
With all the hubbub over Aaron Corp vs. Matt Barkley, many seem to be forgetting the the strength of the USC offense is their offensive line, which is the best in the nation, and led by preseason all-americans Kristofer O'Dowd and Jeff Byers. The should be paving the way for the USC stable of running backs, which include Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight, and fullback Stanly Havili. Meanwhile, whoever ends up under center will have a large amount of targets to pick from, including All Pac 10 WR Damian Williams.
At the QB position, my feeling is that Aaron Corp will end up taking the position. Matt Barkley has not seized his chance with Corp injured, and when he was around, Corp did not make mistakes, and with the talent on the line and at the skill positions, that could be all that USC will need.
The real question is, how will this unit respond in pressure situations? The knock on USC the past year years is that they never came through in those games they probably should have won. With some key inexperience as well as new coaches on offense, USC may struggle, but will like be just fine as they overcome their opponents with sheer talent.
I really feel that this will be a wash. Both teams have talented returners, but at this point, the kicking games are solid but at this point, neither have reached that upper level. If Jackson Rice continues to impress, that could be a key advantage in this game
USC is as vulnerable this year as they ever will be, and I think that Oregon and Cal will have a great chance to challenge them for the conference title. I believe USC will falter this year. I don't believe that they will be consistent enough on either side of the ball to get through it's schedule without a loss. And Oregon and Cal could be the teams to beat them. Let's not forget, the last team to beat USC when favored was Oregon in 2007.
But, USC is the favorite for a reason, and until either team can consistently challenge the Trojans, before the season, the chances are better for a loss than a win.