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Oregon-USC Football Series History

Scar Tissue That I Wish You Saw: Trojans Edition

NCAA Football: Oregon at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Webfoots football team went south to Los Angeles and proceeded to be rather rude guests to their hosts from the University of Southern California, defeating the Trojans 34-0 on November 8, 1915. It would be November 25, 1920 before the teams met again (this time in Pasadena, CA) and USC returned the favor, winning 21-0. After the Trojans joined the Pacific Coast Conference the Ducks went to LA five times from 1931 through 1936… and never scored a point in five more losses. Oregon’s losing streak would extend to eight consecutive games, though at least they got on the scoreboard in 1937 and 1938. The 1938 game is also notable as being the first meeting between the teams outside of Southern California when USC made a long overdue trip to Multnomah Stadium (now Providence Park) in Portland, OR. The Ducks at least managed a tie in 1939 but lost again in 1940, both games in LA once more.

Entering the 1941 season, it had been over 25 years since an Oregon football team had beaten USC. The new decade would bring greater parity between the teams with a 20-6 victory for the Ducks. The Trojans won in 1942 and 1946. Oregon notched their first win against USC as a home team when the Trojans finally came north once again and the Ducks beat them 8-7 in Portland. Oregon went south to LA again in 1949 and 1950, losing both games.

Len Casanova avoided playing USC in his first two seasons at Oregon. By the time the series resumed he had the Ducks ready to compete with the best in the PCC, beating the Trojans 13-7 in Portland. Cas’ teams would lose the next two games in the series but then won three straight. Following the breakup of the PCC the series went on hiatus until Oregon and Oregon State were invited to what would become the Pac-8 Conference. USC won the first two games between the teams as Pac-8 members, including their first trip to Autzen Stadium in Eugene on November 2, 1968. Oregon took the next home-and-home in 1970 and 1971.

The Trojans were one of the strongest programs in the nation in the 1970s and 1980s while the Ducks were mired in mediocrity for much the same time span. It was obvious from the results, USC won every game against Oregon from 1972 through 1993 with two exceptions: a feisty 7-7 tie in 1980 and a 34-27 upset by a Rich Brooks/Bill Musgrave led team in 1987, both games played at Autzen.

In 1994 USC was, as usual, one of the favorites to win the Pac-10 title. Oregon, coming off a disappointing end to the 1993 season, had been widely predicted to finish 9th or 10th in the standings. The first few weeks of the season did nothing to dispel these predictions. The Trojans still looked like the class of the conference despite a big loss at Penn State. The Ducks had looked terrible in losses to Hawaii and Utah, though they had pulled it together to beat Iowa at home. Any optimism from that game quickly faded when starting quarterback Danny O’Neil developed an infection in his throwing hand that would sideline him for the first conference game of the season against USC at the LA Coliseum. The Ducks turned to southpaw sophomore Tony Graziani and shocked the country with a 22-7 victory. Graziani and many of his team mates hadn’t even been born yet the last time the Ducks had beaten the Trojans in LA.

The mid to late nineties were a disappointment to USC fans by their high standards. Though Oregon lost when they returned to the coliseum in 1997, they then proceeded to win four straight in the series. The Trojans still had plenty of talent and three of the four games in the streak were decided by less than 6 points. The 2001 game would be future national champion USC coach Pete Carroll’s first against Oregon. The Trojans overcame a 21-6 third quarter deficit and held a 22-21 lead with 1:37 left when Oregon lined up for a go-ahead field goal from the USC 26 yard line. The kick was blocked and the Trojans had a chance to run out the clock. The Ducks defense held firm and forced a 3-and-out. “Captain Comeback” Joey Harrington still had 56 seconds of game time with the ball at Oregon’s 24 yard line. It was more than enough. Kicker Jared Siegel drilled his next field goal attempt, a 32 yarder, with 17 seconds left and the Ducks survived.*

*An official complaint lodged by Carroll and USC would lead the Pac-10 conference to ban “artificial noise makers” such as the balloons handed out by Oregon at this game.

Following the spectacular 2001 season Oregon head coach Mike Belloti’s teams would have mixed success for several years while Carroll’s USC squads went from strength to strength and won the next three meetings. In 2007, led by senior quarterback Dennis Dixon under new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, the Ducks fielded a team that appeared to be a legitimate threat to the Trojans streak of five consecutive 1st place Pac-10 finishes. The game came down to the wire when USC began their final drive at their own 18 yard line trailing 17-24 with 3:10 left. They would make it all the way to the Oregon 33, but with only 11 seconds remaining on the clock Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez forced the ball into coverage. Ducks safety Matthew Harper made him pay, intercepting the pass and setting his team up to take the lead in the Pac-10 title race.

Dixon’s injuries in the following weeks led to Oregon stumbling down the stretch and USC finished in a first place tie with Arizona State (another team Oregon had beaten). The Trojans won the Pac-10 yet again in 2008, beating Mike Bellotti’s last Ducks team 44-10 at the Coliseum in 2008. The dynasty Carroll had built would be toppled spectacularly on October 31, 2009 in a Halloween day game that has passed into fan legend as “Fright Night.” USC kept it close at first as Oregon took a 24-17 into halftime. In the second half, the dam burst for the Trojan defense against now head coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo spread option based offense. Combined with effective adjustments from DC Nick Alliotti’s defense Oregon ran away with a dominant 47-20 victory.

Pete Carroll would leave to take over the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL following the 2009 season and recruiting sanctions from the NCAA in light of financial dealings (now perfectly permissible under current NIL policies) would hamstring his successors for some time to come. USC has had successful seasons since, but has never regained the dominance of the Carroll era. The Ducks have only lost to the Trojans twice since “Fright Night.” The first was Oregon’s only conference loss of the 2011 season. The 38-35 victory at Autzen was one of the most impressive of head coach Lane Kiffin’s USC tenure. The second was a 45-20 win in LA against the Ducks moribund 2016 squad.

Lincoln Riley was supposed to be an established coach who could return USC to contending for national championships. This season hasn’t trended in the right direction though, and the Trojans will play this game without former defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Will tonight mark another reversal in the balance of power between these two programs? Or will the ghosts unleashed on “Fright Night” haunt the Trojans once more?