Preview: Arizona at USC
Unlike years past, when all things climaxed with rivalry, the Trojans will host the Wildcats to close the book on the regular season. UCLA was moved ahead, fitting in nicely for ‘rivalry week’, with Arizona and USC scheduled for ‘championship week’. The forethought was that this season finale would have Rose Bowl implications. But while four BCS conferences will be crowning their champions on Saturday, the Pac 10 title and trip to the Rose Bowl will have been settled two days earlier in Oregon.
The Trojans and Wildcats won’t play for any trophies, but in all likelihood, a second place finish and possible trip to the Holiday Bowl. And remarkably, this would be a first, as no program from Los Angeles has ever played in a San Diego bowl.
Arizona Wildcats (7-4, 5-3 Pac 10)
Last Week: defeated Arizona State
The Wildcats are the conference creeper. With Stanford, USC, and Oregon making the majority of the noise, Arizona is quietly 7-4 and well in the title hunt two weeks ago. A heartbreaking overtime loss to Oregon ended any future plans to be in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, but a win on Saturday will add to season accomplishments.
Mike Stoops is a defensive mind, and not surprisingly, his Wildcats are second in conference in that category, trailing only Arizona State. Ricky Elmore will enter this game with 10.5 sacks (1st in conference) and 11.5 tackles for loss. The defensive end will face a USC offensive line that is again reshuffled, with Kris O’Dowd returning to the middle. Cornerback Trevin Wade will draw the assignment of defending Damian Williams and limiting big plays by the Trojans pass attack. Though the cats are decent against the rush, they’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to be fairly efficient, something they can ill afford against a USC offense looking to breakout.
USC Trojans (8-3, 5-3 Pac 10)
Last Week: defeated UCLA
With the Pac 10 bunched in formation, losing this game would drop the Trojans to a sixth place finish in conference. USC continues to struggle in third down efficiency, and Matt Barkley has now thrown at least one interception in each of the last seven games. The ineffectiveness of the true freshman has allowed opposing defenses to concentrate on run stoppage. The talented backfield that was expected to run over opponents is 4th best in the Pac 10, having to earn every yard in carrying the offensive load. Look for the Trojans to continue to exploit defenses by utilizing tight end Anthony McCoy for big gains.
The defense appeared much improved last week, though it did face a miserable UCLA offense. They get a different look against a Sonny Dykes unit that is often high powered and quick to strike. The good news for USC is that Arizona running back Nick Grisby will not play in this game. The bad news is Keola Antolin filling the spot. Antolin had some success running against the Trojans a year ago, until he was sidelined by a crippling hit from Taylor Mays. Both Stanford and Oregon overpowered USC with their rushing attack, and I’m sure Pete Carroll has made a note of it. Also expect to see plenty of blitz packages against quarterback Nick Foles, who has a break in his non throwing hand.
X-Factor- These teams are more evenly matched than one would believe. And in any contest that has the making of a draw, the play on special teams can be the difference between winning and losing. With Arizona and USC, you have the conference’s two best return men in William Wright and Damian Williams. Wright’s 19.18 yards per return make him the best in the nation. Unless the Trojans have suddenly solved their problems on third down, they’ll spend another day punting the ball away, and delivering it to the strength of their opponent.
Prediction: USC 27, Arizona 26
All Time Series: USC leads 26-6
Streak: USC has won 7
Last Meeting: USC 17, Arizona 10 (Tucson, AZ)