Ducks, Trojans hoping for highlight in their unusual seasons
LOS ANGELES (AP) Oregon is ordinary. Southern California is just so-so.
Two down seasons have removed some of the shine from these West Coast powers' showdown at the Coliseum on Saturday. For the first time in the 21st century, neither USC nor Oregon is ranked for their meeting.
But there's still plenty of reason for both teams to keep fighting. The Trojans (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12) have a four-game winning streak and plans for continued contention in the Pac-12 South, while the Ducks (3-5, 1-4) are playing for bowl eligibility and a boost to next season - and possibly coach Mark Helfrich's job security.
''Like I told our team, don't buy into this 3-5 record that they have,'' USC coach Clay Helton said. ''This team could easily be 6-2, and if you don't bring your `A' game, you're going to get beat. We have to take this game as serious as a heart attack.''
The game also features a matchup between two promising freshman quarterbacks who refused to wait their turns to play.
Sam Darnold will get his sixth straight start for USC, while Justin Herbert will make his fourth start for Oregon. Both passers seized their jobs from their older counterparts during the disappointing stretches of their teams' seasons, and both have capitalized impressively.
Darnold is the type of athletic, big-armed quarterback who would look perfect in the Ducks' up-tempo offense, and the school pursued him in recruiting. The Orange County native made an unofficial visit to Eugene before committing to USC, and he won the Trojans' starting job as a redshirt in September, usurping veteran Max Browne .
Five games later, Darnold has already set USC's freshman single-season record with 18 touchdown passes.
''He's just a really good football player and surrounded by excellent talent,'' Helfrich said. ''A guy that presents a great passing threat and a great run threat that really makes it go.''
Herbert pulled a similar trick at Oregon this season, taking over for Dakota Prukop after the Ducks' 2-3 start. The first true freshman to start for Oregon since 1983 has posted a series of lofty offensive performances, even setting the school record for total offense with 512 yards last week against Arizona State while the Ducks ended their five-game skid.
Herbert knows the USC defense presents a markedly different challenge. The Trojans have been on a roll defensively during their streak, most recently holding high-octane California to 24 points in a blowout win.
''I think they're just an exceptional team,'' Herbert said. ''So regardless (of their record), they're going to have a good defense and a great offense.''
Here are more things to know about the schools' 61st meeting:
GROUND GAME: The Trojans' offense started to roll during an undefeated October, and it shows no signs of slowing. USC averaged 264 yards rushing per game in October despite losing top tailback Justin Davis to injury, while Oregon's run defense is ranked a dismal 116th in the nation.
COUGHING IT UP: The Oregon defense's best shot to stop USC might reside in Darnold's pattern of turnovers. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes in the last four weeks, but also threw four interceptions. In addition, he lost two fumbles apiece in wins over Colorado and Cal. The freshman is working on ball security, but Helton also doesn't want to remove the exciting, risk-taking style that has made Darnold stand out.
ADOREEBLE: The Ducks are well aware of Adoree Jackson, the cornerback and kick returner whose speed has few equals in college football. The junior already holds USC's career kickoff return yardage record, and he leads the Pac-12 in both punt return yardage and kickoff return yardage this season. ''Adoree Jackson, getting him out of the game is a huge, huge key to success there,'' Helfrich said.
CALLED FOR TRAVELING: Oregon played the USC fight song during practice this week to prepare the Ducks for what should be a fairly full Coliseum. But Helfrich drew the line at a simulated Traveler, the Trojans' mascot: ''We didn't bring in a horse.''
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org