It has been a recurring theme throughout the years now, in that USC always seems to drop a game or two to teams that have no business in even being close to beating the Trojans. But this year's team seemed to be different, in that it had the nation's best skill player duo in Marquise Lee, and Robert Woods, and (at the time) the nation's best pro-style quarterback in Matt Barkley. Lane Kiffin looked as if he becoming a top-tier coach, and the recruits were buying into the rediscovered confidence in Los Angeles. The veteran Trojan team could trump literally any matchup to start the season, and promised to not only contend for, but win a national title.
Fast forward two months, and we found out that USC still is USC.
We also found out that Oregon is still Oregon.
Chip Kelly's squad didn't just reload, they traded in for a better gun. Oregon's offensive expertise has not only returned, but has expanded to better, faster, and stronger players. Then there's the Oregon defense, that has quietly become the strength of an offense-focused team. The Ducks have smashed every bit of competition that came their way through nine weeks, and each beat-down was dampened by Oregon's obvious efforts to stop itself from scoring too many points.
When Oregon heads south to take on USC this Saturday, they'll be arriving to significantly less fanfare than anticipated to start the season. Back in August, the November 3rd matchup between the Ducks and Trojans looked like an obvious showcase of the two of the nation's best teams, and a great opportunity to gain respect and notoriety for the PAC-12, as the matchup would be sure to overshadow the LSU-Alabama field-goal fest on the other side of the country on the same day. The only prerequisite for the Hollywood-esque storyline was that both teams had to arrive to the game in the national title chase.
It is very simple; Oregon held up their end of the bargain, USC did not.
Things would have been a lot easier for both teams had USC lived up to expectations, but the Trojans couldn't follow through on their pseudo-agreement to make Los Angeles the center of college football on November 3rd, and the Ducks will feel the repercussions of that more than USC will in the long run as SC's national title dreams have been canned for over a month now, while Oregon's strength of schedule has plummeted rapidly with the Trojans' and Beavers' struggles.
The only thing Oregon can cling to for their national title hopes is convincing voters that they are, indeed, deserving of a national championship berth. The only national stage Oregon will have for the remainder of this season comes on Saturday, and the Ducks will have a chance to not only avenge last year's loss to the Trojans, but to prove that the Ducks are far and away the best program from top to bottom in the west.
The game itself hasn't lost any of the hype for PAC-12 fans, though, as the conference's most talented teams are still meeting on Saturday. Only thing is, if Arizona's offense had no problem scorching the Trojan defense, the Oregon offense won't have any trouble, either. Even if Oregon does have an off day offensively, and is held to under 40, USC will have to score 35-plus points on an elite Oregon defense, a tall task for any team, regardless of how talented the Trojans are.
Oregon is rightfully expecting USC's "A-Game," and is preparing for it accordingly. Now, it's only a matter of who's "A-Game" is better.