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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Through no fault of its own, Oregon’s strength of schedule just keeps getting easier and easier. And, what was once a dangerous late season gauntlet may not be enough to push the Ducks in the BCS championship game even if they do run the table.

But, a test is still a test…and flunking it will look even worse now!

Saturday Night’s game at Southern Cal (to be nationally televised by FOX in prime time) is Oregon’s first real test of the season in terms of big time talent. Oregon and Arizona State had the potential to be a threat…and was a test in terms of “environment” coming on the road in the desert in a national TV game. That was a laugher because ASU isn’t in Oregon’s class. At least now, Oregon is facing somebody who has a chance to hang with them.

The problem is, maybe NOBODY in the Pac 12 can hang with Oregon…and they’re so far from hanging with Oregon that the Ducks will be penalized by their soft slate.

*Southern Cal lost last week at Arizona, suffering their second conference loss of the season already. The popular Preseason pick to win the BCS Championship is now a home underdog of more than a touchdown to the team everyone out West should have been backing all along. If Oregon beats USC handily, they simultaneously look great but knock the Trojans out of the BCS Top 20.

*California seemed like a potential threat back when they were crushing UCLA. They’ve fallen apart in recent weeks, and are a longshot to provide much of a thrill next week in the Pacific Northwest.

*Oregon State was upset by Washington last week, ending the potential for two undefeateds playing in a regular season finale rivalry game. Oregon-OSU will still be a war of course…but it may not be a war that gives the Ducks a boost past the likes of Kansas State or Notre Dame if those teams remain undefeated.

*The eventual opponent in the Pac 12 Championship game may enter that matchup with THREE league losses. Good luck getting any juice out of that.

Rock and a hard place. If Oregon dominates down the stretch, they build on the perception that they’re playing in a weak conference. If Oregon doesn’t dominate, they don’t look like championship material.

At least Stanford still looms as a truly meaningful foe on November 17th. We’re assuming for now that we’ll be previewing that game for you on these pages in two weeks!

In this moment…it’s time to preview Oregon/USC in the second most anticipated college game of the week behind LSU-Alabama (which we previewed for you yesterday).

OREGON at SOUTHERN CAL (7 p.m. ET on FOX)

Las Vegas Spread: Oregon by 8.5, total of 70

The line opened at Oregon -5.5 or -6 depending on where you were looking offshore. Sharps (professional wagerers) were surprised USC wasn’t penalized more for the weaknesses that were exposed in the Arizona loss, and jumped on the Ducks. Smart money drove the line all the past a full touchdown. The public loves betting TV favorites anyway…so the line just kept rising. Maybe the oddsmakers get the last laugh. Or, maybe the guys behind the line who loved USC before the season started will get spanked again for another misread. You can see that a high scoring shootout is expected with that big total. Oregon plays fast. USC tries to strike for big plays. Could get wild.

CURRENT BCS RANKINGS

Oregon: 4th

USC: 17th

We’re not amidst the group of analysts who believe Oregon is better than Alabama. But, so little separates Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame right now that it’s okay with us if you think of all three of those teams as co-number two’s. The “official” rankings have the Ducks at #4, and now well ahead of plummeting Southern Cal. As is the case with all “plummeting” teams, you can’t be sure where they really rank until they hit bottom. USC has been inconsistent enough this year that they may not even be top 25. That being said…they’re good enough to score an upset at home with a few breaks. That’s what BCS Chaos is all about.

HEAD COACHES

Oregon: Chip Kelly

USC: Lane Kiffin

Kiffin was getting a lot of positive Preseason run when it was incorrectly thought that he had built a national championship contender. Now, the wolves are out again because he’s supposed to have too much talent to struggle this much vs. expectations on a regular basis. Kelly’s not struggling. In fact, Kelly has managed to keep his team looking great while holding back! Oregon has been CRUSHING teams in the first half this year, then resting its starters. That should have kept this fresh for this late season gauntlet that may not turn out to be much of a gauntlet anyway. We not only give the coaching edge to Kelly here…we understand that it may be a coaching mismatch in terms of X’s and O’s and true leadership. How many sideline interviews do we have to see with Lane Kiffin where he keeps saying his players make too many mistakes? Coaches are supposed to fix that!

QUARTERBACKS

Oregon: Marcus Mariota

USC: Matt Barkley

Barkley is no longer Andrew Luck II, but is still seen as a guy who can shine at the next level because of his pedigree. He didn’t shine enough against Stanford and Arizona when it counted…so you can’t assume he’s going to be the ultimate difference-maker here. Mariota is still a work in progress because he has to sit so much each week. Defenses are certainly having trouble dealing with his versatility. His weakness is in the air…so USC must contain his runs and force him to pass. Both of these guys are going to impact the game. Mistakes by either could determine who wins and covers.

LAST WEEK’S BOXES

OREGON 70, COLORADO 14

Total Yardage: Colorado 245, Oregon 617

Rushing Yards: Colorado 150, Oregon 425

Passing Stats: Colorado 14-27-0-95, Oregon 14-28-0-192

Turnovers: Colorado 2, Oregon 1

Third Downs: Colorado 15%, Oregon 67%

 Vegas Line: Oregon by 46, total of 68

It’s a shame Colorado falls in this spot since the Buffaloes are so horrible. But, most Oregon games end up looking something like this because that’s how they play. Oregon makes everyone look like Colorado! Note that Oregon still only completed 50% of its passes against a non-defense.

ARIZONA 39, SOUTHERN CAL 36

Total Yardage: USC 618, Arizona 588

Rushing Yards: USC 125, Arizona 219

Passing Stats: USC 31-49-2-493, Arizona 27-51-1-369

Turnovers: USC 5, Arizona 1

Third Downs: USC 45%, Arizona 35%

Vegas Line: USC by 5.5, total of 68

This is an ideal boxscore to study because Oregon is a much more potent version of Arizona. USC’s problems? They were outrushed badly. Having to throw the ball all the time led to a turnover debacle. Throwing downfield all the time led to 18 incomplete passes. Arizona is so shaky they could only turn those factors into a nailbiter win. Oregon will win by at least three touchdowns if they almost double USC on the ground and win the turnover battle like that. Southern Cal will have to play its best game of the year just to hang with Oregon, let alone think about springing an upset.

BEST EXPECTATION

The best expectation based on the visible evidence is that Oregon will determine its own fate. If they play sharp, and force mistakes from Barkley…then it’s an easy cover on top of being a win. The problem is…Oregon’s schedule has been so soft this year that we may be looking at one of those teams that runs up the score on inferior opponents, but shrivels up when the other guy doesn’t  blink. Remember, Oregon was very good last year but lost at home to USC. The New England Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in a while, nor the Yankees a World Series. Maybe this is the game where a true champion is showcased…or maybe it’s the game where a pretender is dealing with its first real chance of being exposed.

JIM HURLEY knows how excited you are about the marquee games on the card this week. That’s why he’s been working so hard on Oregon-USC and Alabama-LSU. Check the home page of this website Saturday morning for big play bulletins regarding the games everyone’s talking about. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Don’t forget to check on early bird basketball rates. The NBA has already started and college basketball tips off Friday!

Oh...and don't forget that JIM HURLEY'S NOVEMBER GOLDEN GAME goes Saturday in college football!

Back with you Sunday with a stat preview of Dallas-Atlanta in an NBC Sunday Night game that is sure to make headlines. Now…proceed immediately to JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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