Oregon St hosts USC with dimmed postseason hopes
With no postseason to play for, No. 20 USC still finds inspiration. Against Oregon State this Saturday, it could be revenge that drives the Trojans.
Two seasons ago the Trojans were ranked No. 1 when they arrived in Corvallis. They left with a 27-21 loss and, ultimately, a shot at the national championship dashed.
The Beavers, meanwhile, were dubbed the new Giant Killers, a revival of the 1967 nickname of the Oregon State team that knocked off top-ranked USC and running back O.J. Simpson.
In 2008, the 12-1 Trojans went on to whip Penn State in the Rose Bowl but former coach Pete Carroll famously said he thought USC could have won against either team that went to the BCS title game that year.
USC's fortunes have changed considerably since then. Carroll went to the Seahawks and Lane Kiffin took over a program that was later sanctioned by the NCAA for violations involving former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. One of the penalties was a two-year postseason ban.
The Trojans also saw their dominance in the Pac-10 slip away to Oregon, last season's conference champion.
Kiffin said his team finds motivation even though the season won't end with a bowl game.
''I just think it speaks a lot to our players and who they are,'' Kiffin said. ''The guys who stayed here - especially the ones who had a chance to leave, it says a lot about their commitment to be here and finish this thing off. So I'm very proud of them.''
The Trojans (7-3, 4-3 Pac-10) are coming off a 24-21 road win over Arizona, which was ranked No. 18 at the time. Marc Tyler rushed for a career-high 160 yards and Matt Barkley passed for one touchdown and ran for another. Barkley ranks atop the Pac-10 with 25 TD passes, leading an offense that is averaging 35.2 points per game.
USC and Arizona are now tied for third in the Pac-10 standings.
While USC can't play in the postseason, Oregon State finds itself fighting to get there.
The Beavers (4-5, 3-3) have two straight losses, 17-14 at UCLA and 31-14 to lowly Washington State, uncharacteristic for a team accustomed in the past several years to late-season surges. They have not lost three straight since 2002.
Those losses put Oregon State in a hole when it comes to becoming bowl eligible. After the Trojans, the Beavers visit No. 7 Stanford before hosting top-ranked Oregon in the annual Civil War rivalry game.
Considered a Heisman Trophy contender at the start of the season, running back Jacquizz Rodgers is averaging just 78 yards in the past two games, well off his average. Last season he rushed for 113 yards and a TD on 20 carries in a 42-36 loss to USC.
He called his team out after the loss to the Cougars, who had a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak and only one other victory this season going into the game.
''I cannot remember the last time I wanted to cry after a football game. It had to have been back in high school,'' he said. ''I love to win. I wish everyone felt that way.''
The insinuation was that not all the Beavers felt that way. Coach Mike Riley acknowledged that perhaps the team has lacked focus this season.
''I think there's a mental edge to this thing that we haven't been on, obviously,'' he said. ''The best way to deal with that is for us to go back to the details of football. Whether it's passion or confidence, whatever those things are, we've got to build them both up through the week so we can play a good football game.''
USC leads the all-time series against the Beavers with a stunning 59-10-4 record.
But the Beavers have won two of the last four meetings - both in Corvallis. In 2006, the Trojans were ranked No. 3 and Oregon State pulled off a 33-31 upset, snapping USC's 27-game Pac-10 winning streak.
The two teams will not meet again until 2010 because of Pac-10 expansion.