The Allure of Oregon-USC Is Lower Than Expected, But Not The Importance


Contributor, 750 The Game

Before the season began, I was looking at Oregon’s schedule to try and find spots where the Ducks could be featured on ESPN’s College GameDay. Washington, Utah, and USC were all candidates with Oregon State being a possibility as well. The Trojans have seen to it that this week’s matchup will be a ‘Pac-12 After Dark’ contest instead of one in the national spotlight.

The Trojans’ defense has been beyond abysmal this year, allowing over 480 yards per game. They’ve lost 3 of their last 4 and are not ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since Lincoln Riley took over the program in 2022. Coach Riley decided to (finally) move on from defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who he had on his staff for the last several seasons going back to their time at Oklahoma. If Riley had left Grinch behind in Norman and only brought over Caleb Williams, the stage for this week’s matchup with the Ducks would probably be larger.

But alas, it isn’t. 

Oregon is favored by 16.5 points over USC, a number that even optimistic Duck fans couldn’t have predicted when the season began. Still, the importance of this game is significant for Dan Lanning’s team as they seek to make the College Football Playoff. The Ducks likely control their own fate in doing so, but games like this one can help bolster their resume even more in the eyes of the committee.

Oregon is the highest ranked one-loss team in the country, and when looking at their schedule so far it’s clear the committee values their margins of victory. They beat Utah by 29 points, and against inferior teams Colorado and Stanford they put up identical scores of 42-6. 

USC is not great, but they’re not a complete and utter mess. They’re 7-3, which is a disaster by USC’s standards, but they also played competitive games with Utah and Washington thanks to their high powered offense. Their defense is the reason Oregon is such a big favorite, not their offense that scored more points against Washington than Oregon’s did.

The Trojans boast one of the worst defenses in the power 5, and are giving up 186 rushing yards per game. Bucky Irving and Jordan James, meanwhile, are both averaging at least 7 yards per carry this year. I love the Ducks’ balance on offense with Bo Nix at the helm and his cerebral approach to playing quarterback. He and OC Will Stein are in a really, really good groove right now. USC’s defense actually has some talented players who have been poorly coached and coordinated this year. That might improve with Alex Grinch’s removal, but I don’t anticipate them transforming into a unit that can slow down Bo Nix and his wide array of weapons. 

I feel confident in Oregon’s ability to win the game, especially at home. They’ve lost just once at Autzen Stadium in the last two years, and this year’s team is better than last season’s. Dan Lanning and DC Tosh Lupoi have improved the defense across the board, whether it’s a higher sack/pressure rate or a much better percentage in 3rd and 4th down. If they play well, USC has no hope –- the Trojans can only pull the upset if the game is a punch-for-punch shootout. 

USC’s offense will score points; Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley still know how to light up a scoreboard. I think USC’s mediocre offensive line will have some issues with Oregon’s front four, who are deep and talented. As for the Trojans slowing down this Oregon offense, good luck.

Prediction: Oregon 48, USC 28

Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.