Two teams who had to overcome their share of midseason adversity but have rebounded to keep their Pac-12 title hopes alive meet on Saturday afternoon when No. 24 USC visits No. 22 Oregon. The Trojans have gone 4-1 under interim head coach Clay Helton after Steve Sarkisian was fired following some well-chronicled issues with alcohol and control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South while the Ducks are riding a four-game win streak since starting quarterback Vernon Adams returned from a broken index finger on his throwing hand.
The Ducks are in position to represent the North Division if they can win their final two conference games against the Trojans
and Oregon State and Cal can upset Stanford in the Big Game. Oregon is clearly a different team with Adams, a senior transfer from Eastern Washington who has thrown 12 touchdown passes over the last four games and causes defenses major headaches with his scrambling ability. "He's just versatile," USC linebacker Su'a Cravens, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, told the Orange County Register. "He can move outside the pocket. He can make plays on the run. He single-handedly beat Arizona State in overtime (23-of-40 for 315 yards and four TDs in a 61-55 triple-overtime win on Oct. 29). He's not going to go down on first contact. He does a lot of good things for them."
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN LINE: Oregon -4
ABOUT USC (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12): Senior quarterback Cody Kessler is one of five finalists for the Unitas Award, has completed 213-of-310 passes (68.7 percent) for 2,715 yards, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions, and triggers an offense that is averaging 36.4 points and 465 yards per game. Sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, despite playing with a hand he fractured in an Oct.31 win at Cal, appears headed for All-American honors with 63 receptions for 1,160 yards and 10 touchdowns while freshman Ronald Jones II (771 yards, six touchdowns) and junior Justin Davis (505 yards, five scores) give the ground game a strong 1-2 punch. Cravens (66 tackles, 5.5 sacks) is the leader of a defense that features a strong secondary led by cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour but will be without standout freshman linebacker Cameron Smith (team-high 78 tackles), who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's 27-24 victory at Colorado.
ABOUT OREGON (7-3, 5-2): The Ducks come into this one off an impressive 38-36 victory at Stanford and lead the Pac-12 in scoring (41.8), rushing offense (297.4) and total offense (532.6). Running back Royce Freeman, the 2014 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, has eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season, averaging a Pac-12 best 139.2 yards per game, while Adams, who grew in Pasadena as an ardent USC and Reggie Bush fan, has completed 107-of-177 passes for 1,673 yards, 16 TDs and five interceptions. "I've always dreamed of this, playing in the big games -- Stanford, USC, Michigan State," Adams told GoDucks.com after practice on Tuesday. "I'm just happy my dream is coming alive. It's fun."
1. Freeman has 14 career 100-yard rushing games.
2. Jones needs just 87 rushing yards to break the USC freshman rushing record held by 1979 Heisman Trophy winner Charles White.
3. USC has scored four defensive touchdowns this season.
PREDICTION: USC 44, Oregon 38