Since Saturday’s loss in Tucson, the misery of USC fans has been well-documented. Lane Kiffin, the undisciplined players who commit too many errors, the USC defense, even Matt Barkley -- they have all been targets of scorn, and to a large extent, rightly so. It does no good to add to that litany, so let me take a different position: There is no team better for the Trojans to play right now that the Oregon Ducks.
As I type that statement, I’m not sure I believe it. The Ducks may be the best team in the country. Their offense is better than last year’s, with a better quarterback running it. The defense is probably the best coordinator Nick Aliotti has ever had. Who would want to play them after what USC showed last weekend?
After all, this is a USC team that hasn’t played a complete game against a good opponent all year. Sure, there are flashes of brilliance and great displays of talent scattered throughout each game, but almost every game has also left you scratching your head to one degree or another. Trojan fans want to believe, so they have. They believed that USC would get its act together by the time this stretch run came. They believed USC wouldn’t commit a staggering amount of penalties in a big game. They believed that the second-half struggles USC has shown in game after game were just a symptom of USC taking its foot off the gas, or maybe just working on the run game, and were even somehow purposeful -- not a reason for concern. I think the team believed all these things, as well. On Saturday in Tucson, that belief system ran smack into the reality that this is who these Trojans are right now. So again, as the Trojans come to grips with their reality, why would you want to play Oregon this week?
Let me give you a list of the reasons:
Dramatic change demands a dramatic game: On one hand, you could look at these Trojans and say they are only a few plays from being undefeated. But on the other, you have to start saying, “This is who they are.” And if “who they are” is a team that is undisciplined with penalties, that gets run down on defense, that makes too mistakes on offense and one that can’t figure out if it’s kicking game is an asset or liability, then guess what? They need to own it, take responsibility and make some changes. They need to start behaving and playing like the team they want to be. If ASU was coming to town this week, maybe the Trojans wouldn’t feel the impetus to change their ways. With the Ducks, they have no choice.
When stakes are high, true character is revealed: With the loss last weekend, everyone thinks the game doesn’t mean as much. Well, consider this: Win, and you control your destiny for a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Lose, and you may be looking at the Holiday Bowl, or worse. For Kiffin, everything is on the line -- his approval rating, his recruiting, his long-term standing. That’s pressure. For the team and this staff, we will see what they are made of. Do they respond by playing their best game of the season? I say bring on the Ducks, and let’s give these Trojans the chance to show what they’re really made of.
USC can’t be irrelevant: These Trojans are front-page guys, big-time recruits. After last week, they are out of the BCS conversation. If a different team was coming to the Coliseum this week, it would be a down week. So bring on the Ducks, who are undefeated, extremely relevant and playing for everything. Give these Trojans the chance to back into the conversation and in pole position for the Rose Bowl. That only happens with the Ducks coming to town.
Getting Mad = Getting Good: For me, and a lot of guys I played with, there was always this expression -- “Don’t get him mad.” Well, maybe the loss in Arizona has this team mad, and hungry, and a bunch of other adjectives I can’t write. If so, maybe we see a team with a little more attitude (channeled in a way that doesn’t get penalties) ready to go at the Ducks in a way they otherwise might not. I hate to use the cliché, but these Trojans are – in essence – backed into a corner. I’d like to think that will make them more dangerous.
Now, unlike last week, when USC played poorly and handed a win to the all-too-eager-to-take-it Wildcats, the Trojans could play their best game of the year and still lose. But I think after a season when we haven’t seen these Trojans play to their full potential, seeing that on Saturday would be a huge step in the right direction, and it may give this team and its fans exactly what they need at exactly the right time.