Trojans will get a taste of postseason play against Oregon
USC won’t play in a bowl game this season, but Saturday’s matchup against top-ranked Oregon will boast most of the trappings.
With ESPN’s College GameDay setting up shop at the Coliseum and a social network movement urging fans to “Red Out the Coli” by donning cardinal-colored clothing, the game shapes up as one of the most intriguing of the college football season.
USC dropped out of the Associated Press media poll after it suffered the first of consecutive last-second losses against Washington and Stanford. Despite having an open date last week, the Trojans returned to the rankings Sunday at No. 24.
Meantime, Oregon is ranked No. 1 in the AP, coaches’ and Harris Interactive polls. The Ducks are No. 2 behind Auburn in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
In the aftermath of his team’s rout of California on Oct. 16, USC Coach Lane Kiffin said preparing to play a top-ranked team was no different from readying for any other opponent.
Then Kiffin went out and conducted a series of off-week practices unlike any at USC in the last decade.
With several assistants absent because they were recruiting, the usually low-key Kiffin transformed. He became a vocal taskmaster, sprinting from station to station and constantly exhorting his players to maintain the breakneck pace that was adopted to emulate Oregon’s.
The Trojans also ran end-of-practice sprints to improve their conditioning before facing a team that has scored a national-best 55 points a game.
“When I’m running those sprints, I’m going hard because I know I won’t have that feeling of being tired in the fourth quarter,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “That’s when the biggest plays are made because of the fatigue level.”
Oregon, however, demonstrated again Thursday that it was capable of deciding an outcome long before the final period. The Ducks routed UCLA, 60-13, behind quarterback Darron Thomas, running back LaMichael James and a defense that has helped the Ducks lead the nation in turnover margin.
James, whose darting runs helped Oregon to a 47-20 victory over USC last season, averages a nation-leading 162 yards rushing a game for a team that must keep winning to remain in the hunt to play for its first BCS title.
Kiffin is in only his second season as a college head coach but has plenty of experience preparing for top-ranked opponents.
Last season at Tennessee, Kiffin’s Volunteers played then-No. 1 Florida tough before losing, 23-13.
The next month, top-ranked and eventual national champion Alabama barely overcame the Volunteers, 12-10.
Now, Kiffin must prepare USC for its first game against a top-ranked team since 1992, when the No. 20 Trojans lost to Washington, 17-10, at Seattle.
It’s the Trojans’ first home game against a No. 1 team since 1988, when Notre Dame beat No. 2 USC, 27-10, in the regular-season finale on its way to a national championship.
That USC team, behind quarterback Rodney Peete, still went on to play in the Rose Bowl.
For these sanctioned Trojans, their postseason style showcase comes Saturday.
After having the weekend off, the Trojans return to practice Monday. … Defensive end Wes Horton (back), linebacker Malcolm Smith (knee) and running back Dillon Baxter (toe) are among the players expected to return this week.