Oregon is ‘best’ regardless of ranking, Lane Kiffin says

Unbeaten Oregon is ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press media poll and No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

But USC will play “the best in the country” when it faces the Ducks on Saturday at the Coliseum, Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday.

Oregon is coming off a 70-14 victory over Colorado.

The Ducks have averaged a nation-leading 53.3 points a game. Multipurpose star De’Anthony Thomas and running back Kenjon Barner are returning players for an offense that has averaged 540 yards a game, seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Kiffin said the Ducks are “the best they’ve ever been” because of redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota’s speed and a defense that ranks 35th nationally.

USC will try to put behind its turnover- and penalty-plagued 39-36 loss at Arizona that ended hopes of making a run for the BCS title.


“We can’t play a game like that this week,” quarterback Matt Barkley said. “Oregon is too good.”

Last season, Barkley passed for four touchdowns in a 38-35 victory over Oregon, a win that ended the Ducks’ 21-game winning streak at Autzen Stadium.

The Trojans led by 24 points late in the third quarter and held on for a victory that was not assured until Oregon missed a last-second field-goal attempt.

If the Trojans lead Saturday, they cannot “let off the gas pedal” because of Oregon’s quick-strike offense, Barkley said.

“Even if we have a . . . two-score lead,” he said, “you can’t settle with that.”

Pride factor

USC’s penchant for drawing penalties stems from the Trojans’ having too much “pride” and trying to protect each other, receiver Robert Woods said.

Woods cited infractions that he said occurred after USC players were pushed by opponents. But the Trojans, the most penalized team in major-college football, still must play within the rules, he said.

“It’s kind of like just retaliation after the whistle,” he said. “That’s all it pretty much is. We just need to be smart.”

The Trojans’ smaller roster — mandated because of NCAA sanctions — has factored into decisions about whether to keep or remove repeat offenders from the lineup, Kiffin said.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about that this year — about the penalties and when turnovers happen and how we used to do it,” he said. “We’re kind of in the middle. We do sometimes and sometimes there’s just no answer to go to, so we’re just working on it.”

New standard

The NCAA passed legislation that includes provisions for the suspension of head coaches for violations committed by their staffs.

Asked if he thought that was fair, Kiffin said “it comes with the responsibility.”

“You’re the head coach, and it’s hard to know what everybody’s doing, just like it’s hard to know what your players are doing or their relatives are doing,” he said. “But if those are the rules, those are the rules and it comes with the job.”

Quick hits

Receiver Marqise Lee, who set a Pac-12 Conference record with 345 yards receiving against Arizona, did not practice Tuesday so he could prepare for a midterm, an athletic department spokesman said. . . . Offensive tackle Aundrey Walker, who sat out last week because of a concussion and minor neck sprain, was wearing a no-contact yellow jersey after practice. Tailback Curtis McNeal, who also reportedly suffered a concussion Oct. 20 against Colorado, said he did not travel to Arizona because he was ill. McNeal was wearing a yellow jersey after practice and said he would play against Oregon. . . . Cornerback Torin Harris, tailback D.J. Morgan and defensive back Kevon Seymour left practice after 30 minutes. Morgan and Seymour returned near the end of the workout. . . . With television networks exercising a six-day selection option, per their contracts, the kickoff time for USC’s Nov. 10 game against Arizona State will not be announced until Monday, the athletic department spokesman said.

Twitter: @latimesklein