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Washington Vs. USC: The Pac-12 Undercard

The Washington Huskies are pretty much in cruise control the rest of the season. After falling to Oregon and Stanford, Washington is likely locked into the Alamo or Holiday Bowl barring a drastic late-season collapse, so there's not much to gain or lose the next few weeks.

So now this season becomes more about building toward the future. One great way to show that they're on the right track is to beat the USC Trojans a third straight year. Steve Sarkisian has proven he has a penchant for beating his former team, even if both games amounted to coin flips--UW beat USC both times in the final seconds.

However, 2011 USC and 2011 Washington are much different from their previous incarnations.

2010 USC featured a paper machete defense that didn't know where to go, and often couldn't rush the quarterback and they gave up one bad performance after another. The offense under the young and talented Matt Barkley looked really good at times, and really lame at others.

They got both sides of the coin in 2009 (bad offense, good defense) and 2010 (strong offense, no defense) when they played Washington. USC was saddled with poor Aaron Corp with Barkley injured and turned into a two down team (0-10 on 3rd downs) in Seattle, and Jake Locker passed and ran for over 400 yards in the Coliseum the week thereafter. The Trojans still nearly squeaked out victory on both occasions (a testament to their talent), but execution errors cost them on both occasions.

Washington has to be prepared for a much stiffer test. The 2011 USC Trojans have been getting better and better. 

They pushed Stanford to the brink only two weeks ago in the game of the year; other than hemorrhaging turnovers against Arizona State, this team could be undefeated going into this matchup with UW. Thankfully, they're not quite there yet, and thus prevented Larry Scott's worst nightmare.

The 2011 Washington Huskies are proving that their offense can move the football, and they certainly have a lot of talent, but with a young quarterback under center, their upside does look limited. Considering Keith Price is more of a system quarterback than Locker and his struggles against the upper-echelon defenses in the conference, how he's able to adjust and make quick decisions against the Trojans defenders will be critical.

Can Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt pull the same tricks out of their hat? They might be familiar with Lane Kiffin from their concurrent coaching services at Heritage Hall, and did seem to prove they could stay right in it with a struggling squad. But this Trojans defense seems like it's adjusting well to Monte Kiffin's coverage schemes, and they'll be ready to watch every angle Sark and Price will look to attack on defense.

It's definitely a compelling undercard of teams that could competing for a conference title a year from now.