Under typical circumstances, the Oregon Ducks and the USC Trojans should have been playing twice this year. This game should have only been the prelude to what figured to be a raucous conference title game, which would have kind of defeated the purpose of the first game (hopefully the Pac-12 would've scheduled this game a little earlier if USC hadn't been on probation).
Oregon and USC have proven to be the best team in each of their respective divisions. The Ducks have only a loss to the best team in the country on opening weekend, while the Trojans sported a close contest against Stanford and fell victim to turnovers against ASU. Tonight though, the Trojans pretty much stand on their own in the role of spoiler, trying to derail Oregon's second shot at a title.
The Ducks have proven they can run on almost any defense in the country, but they now face a USC defensive front that's resurrected its big-time play and is good at containing on both sides of the field. USC's defense has worn down two years in a row against Oregon, so clearly Trojan fans are hoping that the defense has learned how to contain outside while plugging up the inside. Easier said than done, but if anyone has the talent in the trenches to keep the Ducks on their heels.
Meanwhile, Matt Barkley is probably thinking he has a second chance to do something special. The Ducks defense has actually proven to be more impressive than the offense this season, so if Barkley could hold his own in Autzen it might give a lot of people pause as to who's the more capable quarterback in the conference between him and Andrew Luck. It'd be even more impressive if Barkley has to make a go of it without Robert Woods as his primary option, instead relying on the talented but not quite as capable Marqise Lee and Brice Butler as his wideouts.
Really, the USC lines should have the talent to win the battle in the trenches against Oregon after two years of the Ducks using their speed to overwhelm their individual depth. If the Ducks end up triumphing again by simply wearing the Trojans out on both sides of the football with their quick-hitting execution, then you have to think USC will roll over like they have the last two seasons.
The Trojans and Ducks are in many ways not fighting for anything this year, but next year. Where exactly these two powerhouses are in their respective football trajectories could determine how the next decade of Pac-12 supremacy goes, and both Oregon and USC know that one gaining or maintaining the upper hand on the other will pay off in their overall perception as to who's top dog.
Right now it's Oregon. But USC could very well give more glimpses that they're ready to take that mantle back as soon as they possibly can.