With a powerful presence on the national college football scene, the PAC-12 has juice. And with it a budding USC-Oregon rivalry that could, well, rival most others around the NCAA. You see, many feel that intensifying tug-of-war between the USC Trojans and the Oregon Ducks is the new Michigan-Ohio State, Oklahoma-Nebraska or Alabama-Auburn.
True? Let’s take a little look-see.
Since the PAC-12 invited the Utah Utes and the Colorado Buffaloes into the fray and realigned, splitting the league into six-team North and South Divisions and adding a conference championship, the conference became more than just a race for first-place. Granted, last season’s inaugural PAC-12 title game was underwhelming as USC, which had technically won the South, was banned from post-season play and was forced to yield to UCLA. The Bruins went on to play Oregon for the title and a Rose Bowl berth, and despite the courageous and inspiring performance in former coach Rick Neuheisel’s last game, Oregon won out.
It used to be that Oregon’s key rivalries at a given time were the Oregon State Beavers, the Washington State Cougars and the Washington Huskies. True, the Ducks and Beavers meet annually for the in-state Civil War, but it’s been a while since the outcome of that game had an impact on the Top 25.
USC’s most famous rivals include the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the UCLA Bruins, the Stanford Cardinal and the California Golden Bears.
This time around, Oregon still appears to be the favorite to win the North despite the presence of Stanford and Washington, while USC could run away with the South, free of NCAA sanction and ready to prove that the post-season ban and the bad press and the reduced scholarships did not harm the program a bit.
USC will field a skilled offense, led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Matt Barkley, a veteran defense and a driven head coach in Lane Kiffin. Oregon, with the same speed-racer offensive mentality, a winning coach in Chip Kelly, a new quarterback and a running back, De’Anthony Thomas, who may have what it take to eclipse the accomplishments of former recent Ducks greats LaMichael James and LeGarrett Blount.
This year, both are projected to as preseason Top 10 teams, if not better than that. Each is capable of running the table, especially in the conference. And in case you were wondering, both the Ducks and the Trojans expect to win the conference in 2012, regardless of what the other 11 teams may think.
The two team meet on Nov. 3 in Week 11 clash at the Coliseum in a game that should see the fast and furious Oregon offense up against a pro-style USC defense that could be the best in the conference. Barkley, potentially a Top 5 pick in the 2013 draft, can ill afford any turnovers for fear that Oregon will roll up the score every chance it gets Thomas and Kenjon Barner in the backfield.
In other words, it’s on.