LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 24: Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans throws a pass against the Oregon State Beavers on October 24, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
USC’s win over Notre Dame in South Bend was dramatic, but to barely beat an Irish team that barely beat Purdue and Boston College is not impressing a lot of college football poll voters. Neither did an uncomfortably close 42-36 win against Oregon State last weekend.
In the last two weeks, USC has given up 63 points to two unranked teams. Their one loss was to a pedestrian Washington team. There are whispers all over college football: Maybe USC isn’t deserving of that number five raking in the BCS this week.
The Trojans will prove those doubters wrong — or right — this Saturday when they play 10th-ranked Oregon. If USC’s defense is not impressive, if the entire team is not, USC will be out of the BCS and Pac-10 title hunts.
Five weeks ago, a lot of people started looking past this match up. Oregon’s offense look confused and sloppy in the first game of the season — a nationally televised game from the hideous blue turf of Boise State — so people wrote the Ducks off. But that was a mistake. First, Boise State is a good team. Second, the Ducks and their offense have improved by leaps and bounds ever since, having scored 31 or more points in five of the last six games.
This is the biggest game in the Pac 10 this season, the one that will give one team the drivers seat to the conference title. It is two top-10 teams. It is nationally televised.
And that is when the Trojans shine. This program is all about big games.
While the Notre Dame and Oregon State contests were close, in both cases USC got ahead early then seemed to let their foot off the gas. That is when the other teams fought back. However, when the lights have been brightest is when USC has played its best under Pete Carroll. They have been almost unbeatable in the big games. And, every player on the USC roster has been in big games. Oregon, not so much. USC's freshman quarterback Matt Barkley has had ice water in his veins, but that is how you would feel too if you could turn and hand off to Joe McKnight. Or now Allen Bradford, too.
This is the weekend we see just how good USC really is, if they really deserve a shot at the national title. This is USC’s biggest test. And when was the last time Carroll’s team didn’t have a great game in those circumstances?