USC (4-3 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) looks to stay alive in the Pac-12 race against a dangerous Cal team (4-3, 2-2) at the Coliseum on Thursday (7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN). Here are some things to keep in mind going into the game:
The year of the “running raid"?: Washington State has had success by adding a ground game to complement the Air Raid. The Bear Raid has always been a little more run-centric than Washington State’s rendition. But Cal has now rushed for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2004. Granted, it took back-to-back overtimes (a first in school history) to get there. But Tre Watson and Khalfani Muhammad each broke 100 yards against Oregon State (an OT loss) and Oregon (a 2OT win). The last Cal pair to do that was also in 2004, with J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch. The asterisk here, besides the overtime factor, is that Oregon State ranks 10th in the conference in rush defense and Oregon ranks 11th. The only team that’s worse against the run? Cal.
But they can also throw it: Cal’s offense ranks in the nation’s top 10 in seven categories -- including passing offense (second, 370.3 yards per game), scoring offense (ninth, 43.7 points per game) and total offense (sixth, 545.3 ypg). That has a lot to do with the play of quarterback Davis Webb, who ranks in the top 10 nationally in nine categories. Among them, passing touchdowns (second, 27), completions (third, 225) and passing yards per game (third, 368.7). They’ll certainly try to tax a USC secondary that has given up 11 touchdowns through the air this season.
Road woes: The Bears have the unusual distinction of being the only 4-3 FBS team (out of 20) that has gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win. After its neutral-site win in Australia to open the season, the Bears have gone 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road. The Trojans are perfect at home this season (3-0) and remain undefeated at the Coliseum since Clay Helton was named the interim coach last season (6-0).
Bad scheduling: USC has been at home since its 48-14 win against Arizona on Oct. 15, which has given the Trojans plenty of time to rest up for Thursday’s game at the Coliseum. Cal, on the other hand, played a double-overtime game against Oregon on Friday. This is a major scheduling flaw. No team should have to play a game on a short week against a team coming off a bye, and to do so on the road makes it even worse. According to Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group, it’s the first time a Pac-12 team has ever had to play on a short week against a team coming off a bye. It should be the last time, too.
Will the streak end? USC-Cal has been one of the most lopsided series in the Pac-12. The Trojans have won 12 straight -- QB Aaron Rodgers engineered Cal’s last win, in 2003 -- and have been dominant in the process. USC has won by an average of 17.8 points per game during the streak, but has won by just eight and six points the last two seasons. The Bears have only outgained USC twice since 2005 and have forced just one turnover the past three years.