(AP) – After a decisive victory over a fellow top-10 team, Oregon might have more than the inaugural Pac-12 championship on its mind.
Saddled with a postseason ban, all USC can hope for is to continue to play well in its final two games.
The fourth-ranked Ducks can clinch the Pac-12 North Division title with a 10th straight victory Saturday while trying to hand the No. 18 Trojans their sixth consecutive loss in the state of Oregon.
Oregon (9-1, 7-0) moved up two spots in the latest AP poll and into sole possession of first place in the North with a 53-30 rout at then-No. 3 Stanford last Saturday. That victory also put the Ducks back in the national championship picture, with No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Oklahoma State the only unbeaten teams in the BCS top 10.
“I think we’re right back in it,” said Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, who threw for 155 yards and three touchdowns while completing only 11 passes against Stanford. “Why not?”
The Ducks are certainly worthy of some revisited national title consideration after averaging 48.9 points during a nine-game winning streak since falling 40-27 to LSU in their season opener.
“It means nothing until the first week of December,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose team appears on pace to host the first Pac-12 title game Dec. 2. “We’ve lost one. We lose two we’re not even in the discussion.”
Kelly will try to make sure his team is focused as it tries for a 22nd straight home victory and a third consecutive win against USC.
The Trojans (8-2, 5-2) lead the Pac-12 South Division but are ineligible to compete in the conference title game because of their two-year postseason ban for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. With nothing to play for after next week’s finale against crosstown rival UCLA, they’re not putting too much pressure on themselves this weekend.
“It’s a very challenging week. They might be the hottest team in the country,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “(But) the pressure is off, we’re going to go up there and have some fun.”
Though Oregon has outscored the Trojans 100-52 while winning the last two meetings, USC ranks eighth in the nation this season with 100.4 rushing yards allowed per game. The Trojans gave up just 46 yards on the ground in a 40-17 win over Washington last Saturday.
USC, however, has never been able to stop Oregon star LaMichael James. The junior has rushed for 422 yards and four touchdowns in two career games against the Trojans, running 36 times for 239 yards and three scores in the Ducks’ 53-32 win at USC last season.
The nation’s leader averaging 150.9 rushing yards per game, James had 146 yards and three TDs on 20 carries against Stanford.
“I think every game he’s played in, he’s played well,” Kelly said of James, who missed two games because of a dislocated elbow. “We’re going to ride that kid as long as we can.”
The Trojans hope to ride the arm of quarterback Matt Barkley to the program’s first victory in the state of Oregon since beating the Ducks 45-13 at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 24, 2005. USC has dropped its last two in Eugene and three in a row at Oregon State.
Barkley, who threw a TD pass and rushed for a score against Washington, has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 1,663 yards with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions during the Trojans’ 5-1 stretch since Oct. 1.
He’s thrown for 451 yards with three TDs and three interceptions while losing both career games versus Oregon.
However, his favorite target might not be available Saturday. Robert Woods, fourth in the FBS with 92 receptions and 11 TD catches, could miss the game with ankle and shoulder problems.
USC junior Curtis McNeal ran for a career-high 148 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries last weekend, while freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee found the end zone twice.
Lee has at least one TD reception in seven of his last eight games after catching one late in the second quarter against Washington. He also returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.