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CHRIS DUFRESNE / COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Little annoyances could add up to big trouble for USC

Chris Dufresne takes time out (he gets three per half) each Friday during the season to answer questions on college football. This week's topics include deflating confidence in USC Coach Lane Kiffin and a guess about what bowl the Trojans may spin into.

Chris Dufresne

November 10, 2012

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Unbuckling the mailbag:

Question: How many more of these little annoyances will USC Athletic Director Pat Haden put up with?

Kent Hollenbeck

Answer: The thing about little annoyances is they eventually add up to one big annoyance.

One parking ticket turns into two and three and four. They seem perfect for crumpling up and throwing in your back seat until one day the cops issue a warrant for your arrest.

The key thing to remember is that Haden inherited Coach Lane Kiffin from Mike Garrett, USC's previous athletic director. Haden has no personal skin in the game.

Kiffin was a brilliant last-act choice by Garrett to save a recruiting class before the hammer of NCAA sanctions buried the Trojans for 10 years.

Kiffin has proven to be an energetic recruiter and seemed a feasible-to-me bridge through NCAA probation. He's also only 37.

You'd have to think, though, that Kiffin's leash is getting pretty short.

Haden, above all else, has to protect the integrity of the program. It doesn't really matter if Kiffin had knowledge of a student manager deflating balls during the Oregon game. Kiffin's reputation is such that many find it hard to believe a student manager would do this on his own.

This is certainly a critical November in Kiffin's coaching life. Close-out victories over Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame would put USC in the Pac-12 Conference title game with a 9-3 record and a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. Even if USC lost to Oregon again, the Trojans could get to 10 wins.

At this point, it's still possible for Kiffin to salvage the season. Salvaging his reputation seems a much tougher task.

This is a tough town that expects a lot out of its highest-profile coaches.

Ask Mike Brown.

Q: Should I, as a Trojan fan, make holiday plans for El Paso?

@SCgotgreen

A: Sure, especially if you have relatives there and enough healthy mules to make the long journey.

It's a bit too early to speculate on USC's bowl destination. The Trojans could end up in the Rose, Holiday, Alamo or Sun bowls.

The only "bowl" eliminated for sure is the Bowl Championship Series title game in South Florida. And the Tupperware Bowl.

The experts at ESPN.com have USC playing Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. Jerry Palm at CBSsports.com also has USC in the Alamo Bowl, except with the Trojans playing West Virginia.

Either way, El Paso or San Antonio, you're in for some good Mexican food.

Q: Was it a blowout as Oregon fans are calling it, or a game of missed chances as USC fans say?

Michael Castillo

A: I watched the game on replay and never thought for one second Oregon was going to lose. I can't even remember USC having the ball with a chance to win. The Trojans cut the lead to three a couple of times, but their defense could never stop Oregon long enough to set up any drama.

The final score was 62-51, but USC tacked on a meaningless touchdown with one second left. So it was really a 17-point spread, which seems about right.

Forget what USC's offense did to Oregon's defense. Being the defensive coordinator at Oregon with that offense must be a nightmare. Oregon's offense is so lethal and scores so fast it barely gives the Ducks' defense time to rest.

Louisiana Tech offensive coordinator Tony Franklin told me recently he thought Oregon's Nick Aliotti was the best defensive coordinator in the country, given what he has to work with.

I'm going to give Oregon's defense a mulligan. This is the same unit that shut out Arizona, 49-0. USC also has to be a prolific offense with NFL talent all over the field in Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

USC has far more systemic problems on defense, namely the proven inability to stop all these spread-option teams that are infiltrating the Pac-12.

Q: Who would you pick between 'Bama and Oregon on a neutral field? Do not dodge this question, sir!

Dexter Fishmore

A: I haven't played dodgeball since sixth grade. But what's your definition of a neutral field?

Is the Superdome a neutral field for Louisiana State when it plays in the Sugar Bowl? What about Soldier Field for Notre Dame?

For argument's sake, let's schedule our mythical Alabama vs. Oregon game in Tulsa. This may shock you, given my West Coast bent, but I'm generally with the boys in Las Vegas who see Alabama as a six-to-seven-point favorite.

That doesn't mean Oregon couldn't win.

It gives me duck bumps, though, just thinking of this possible matchup.

It's somewhat similar to Oregon vs. Auburn two years ago, with this difference: Oregon's offense is better than it was then and Alabama's defense is better than Auburn's in 2010.

People in the South think Auburn beat Oregon by 100 points to win the BCS title. It was actually 22-19, on a last-second field goal.

I would envision something similar with Alabama-Oregon, but LSU's No. 74 offense gaining 435 yards on Alabama last week should give Crimson Tide fans some pause.

We need Alabama-Oregon to settle the argument. I've never seen anything like this Oregon offense, and only a game against Alabama would prove whether it should be ranked among the greatest in college football history.

I recorded the USC-Oregon game and was aghast at how many times USC's defense could not even get lined up before the Ducks snapped the ball.

Q: How do we feel about Alabama playing Western Carolina in two weeks?

Tyler Holmes

A: The Southeastern Conference wouldn't have it any other way. One advantage of playing an eight-game league schedule, as opposed to nine in the Pac-12, is that SEC teams get to pad their records with an extra nonconference win every year.

That's not to say 1-AA Western Carolina is any worse than Colorado this year.

The SEC typically sets aside a weekend in November to feast on an early Thanksgiving meal.

Check out the SEC schedule on Nov. 17: Alabama hosts Western Carolina, Auburn plays Alabama A&M, Kentucky hosts Samford, Florida tackles Jacksonville State, South Carolina hosts Wofford and Texas A&M plays Sam Houston State

Q: I don't believe any of the teams with two losses ranked higher than Oklahoma were defeated by two teams in your top four. Would you please explain your rationale for rating them this low?

Jack Buss

Banning

A: Rankman doesn't need to explain his rationale … he just needs a bank to cash his checks. What you conveniently failed to mention was that both of Oklahoma's defeats this year were at home, a place where the Sooners have nearly been invincible under Coach Bob Stoops.

You failed to mention Oklahoma allowed Notre Dame to score 30 points. The Irish needed three overtimes to score 29 last week against Pittsburgh. Notre Dame scored 20 points against pathetic Purdue.

Rankman is always willing to reevaluate the merits of each team. Oklahoma was my No. 14 this week, actually only two spots worse than the Sooners are in the BCS standings.

The amazing thing is you took the time to complain about two ranking positions in a subjective poll that doesn't mean anything.

That's the kind of school spirit I like to see.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com