USC will know Pac-12 South chances before UCLA game
LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California's path to the Pac-12 title game is clear.
A win over rival UCLA, plus losses by Utah and Colorado, would give the Trojans the Pac-12 South for the second consecutive year.
In a quirk of the schedule, No. 15 USC will know where it stands before it kicks off against the Bruins late Saturday night, as the No. 11 Utes and No. 12 Buffaloes play early afternoon games.
If Utah and Colorado both win, USC would be eliminated from Pac-12 title contention as it would lose any potential three-team tiebreaker. A Colorado loss to No. 20 Washington State would have USC rooting for the Buffaloes to defeat Utah the following week, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Colorado after a 21-17 win at the Coliseum in October.
That puts USC players and coaches in the awkward position of whether or not to watch the scoreboard, with coach Clay Helton admitting he would.
''I'll look at the score and see where we are at,'' Helton said.
Defensive end Porter Gustin won't actively be keeping tabs on Utah and Colorado, but figures he will know where USC stands anyway.
''I'll probably hear about it. We're all going to be interested,'' Gustin said. ''If they lose, of course it's going to be nice. I think it will help get us up, get the energy up. Either way the energy is going to be up though.''
Though USC is coming off a win at No. 7 Washington and has won six games in a row, its longest streak since 2008 when it last won a conference title, everyone in the program insists there is no risk of a letdown this week against struggling UCLA.
''Our backs are against the wall,'' safety Chris Hawkins said. ''We felt like that from Game 1, but it just didn't work in our favor early on. Now it has turned around and our hard work is really showing.''
That is especially true for the defensive front, which sacked Huskies quarterback Jake Browning three times in the upset win. Gustin has four tackles for loss in USC's last three games and sacked Browning twice, which he credits to more rigorous film study.
''I thought I was preparing as much as I needed to and then something wasn't going my way, so I knew I needed to step something up,'' Gustin said.
If Gustin and his cohorts can maintain that pressure against UCLA, it could be a long night for Bruins quarterback Mike Fafaul. The former walk-on completed only 3 of 11 passes for 33 yards under duress in UCLA's 38-24 win over Oregon State.
Getting after Fafaul would help keep up USC's end of the bargain to play for the Pac-12 title, and Hawkins insists he won't take a look at the outcomes involving Utah and Colorado until that happens.
''I'll find out afterwards because if you are worried about other people then you are not focused on what you have to do,'' Hawkins said. ''Our goal was to make the Pac-12 championship and that's still in sight right now, so we haven't really moved past that. We're focused on UCLA. This is our last Pac-12 game. Hopefully we win and let everything else take care of itself.''