THE TEAMS: Oregon enters this game as Lane Kiffin describes, as "the hottest team in the country." The Ducks have won 9 straight after their opening night loss to LSU, and none of those games have been within 14 points. The Ducks are fresh off a 53-30 obliteration of Stanford in Palo Alto.
USC, after struggling through the early season has rounded into form as well. Their defense has stiffened after a rough start to the season, and they seem to have found a running game, making their offense very dangerous. They put a 40-17 beatdown on washington in a half-empty Coliseum on Saturday.
THE INJURIES: Oregon is getting healthy at just the right time. Darron Thomas and LaMichael James missed games in October due to injuries, but both looked to be at 100% against Stanford after shaking off the rust against WSU and Uw. It looks like Josh Huff is finally healthy after getting dinged up in fall camp. Anthony Gildon will likely continue to improve after missing a couple games. The only notable injuries currently are Ricky Heimuli, who seems to continue to be battling ankle issues, and Justin Hoffman, who missed the last two games.
USC doesn't have any glaring injury problems but they have a few players with nagging injuries that may limit them on Saturday, something that the Trojans can ill afford due to their lack of depth. The Pac-12's top receiver, Robert Woods, is 70% according to Lane Kiffin. He's battling both shoulder and ankle issues. He'll play though, and give Oregon fans nightmares all week. The Pac-12's top safety, T.J. McDonald, was hospitalized over the weekend due to severe migraines, though I don't expect that to keep him out. Lastly, USC RB Marc Tyler played against washington after missing the Colorado game.
THE COACHES: On one side, Chip Kelly, the top coach in the Pac-12. Kelly has amassed a 31-5 record in less than 3 seasons. The only coach better during that time period? Nick Saban, who has a 33-5 record. On the other side is Lane Kiffin. I'll be honest, I can't figure out Lane. He's a great recruiter, and has done good things with the USC offense, and then he'll call a screen pass with 9 seconds left in the game, and you'll be left shaking your head. On the plus side, he's not a sniveling coward that instructs his players to fake injuries, and that's earned him some points in my book.
KEY PLAYERS FOR USC:
WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, and QB Matt Barkley: These three players make up the best overall passing attack in the Pac-12. All three players will be playing on Sundays, and Barkley can hit either receiver just about anywhere on the field. Both receivers are in the top 10 in the conference in receiving, and will make life very difficult for the Oregon secondary.
RB Curtis McNeal: USC struggled early in the season because they could not develop a consistent running game. They has changed over the second half of the season. McNeal, only 5'7 180, has surpassed 100 yards 3 of the last 5 games, including 145 yards against Stanford. USC is not as dangerous when they are one-dimensional. Unfortunately, a competent rushing attack makes them downright scary.
DE Nick Perry: Oregon has been very successful this season in part because they've protected Darron Thomas. Perry will be the key in disrupting Oregon's passing and rushing attacks by getting pressure in the backfield early and often. Perry has had issues with consistency, but is still leading the conference in sacks (though 1/3 of his sacks came against Uw last week), and is second in tackles for loss.
KEY PLAYERS FOR OREGON:
CB Terrance Mitchell: Oregon's freshman corner has stepped up in recent weeks. With Cliff Harris out due to suspension and Anthony Gildon battling injuries, Mitchell is becoming a true lock-down corner. He'll face his toughest test of the season against the stellar USC receivers.
S Eddie Pleasant: It's been a long journey with Eddie, but we're getting there. Over the past month, he's gone from a linebacker trying to play safety, to a true safety. He's been excellent in coverage and is 5th in the conference with 10 passes defended.
RB/WR/KR/Punt coverage gunner De'Anthony Thomas: We all know the story of his last minute commitment to the Ducks, where he spurned USC to play in the high powered Oregon offense. Now's the time for him to show Kiffin and USC what they missed.