Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 11/1/12
It goes without saying that Matt Barkley's remark about "unfinished business" is going to remain just that -- unfinished. The USC quarterback, who opted to return for his senior season rather than cash in on the NFL Draft, wanted one last chance to return his team to BCS prominence without the restraints of NCAA probation. You had to appreciate his intentions, but the execution failed. The Trojans fell hard from their preseason No. 1 ranking when they lost to Stanford in September (on FOX). USC again tripped up last week in a loss at Arizona that removed most of the sheen from their sold-out game Saturday against No. 4 (in BCS Standings) Oregon at the Coliseum. But all is not lost. Even if its national title hopes are kaput, USC, ranked No. 17 in the BCS, at least holds the keys to the kingdom -- as well as controlling its own fate regarding the Rose Bowl. And so the Oregon game, although it doesn't hold the importance Trojans fans had once hoped, remains important in several ways. "It's good to have a game like this," said USC coach Lane Kiffin this week. "It's good to have the next game be a big game with a national-ranked opponent like this so you don't sit around and keep looking backwards." No sense in doing that. The Trojans' biggest obstacle has been themselves. They've been assessed 82 penalties in eight games this season, including 13 in the Arizona loss, and lead the NCAA in total penalties (83) and yards (677). They can right all their wrongs with a victory over the Ducks, who have a 12-game road winning streak and haven't lost since last season's 38-35 defeat to the Trojans in Eugene. USC is still a contender for the Pac-12 conference title and the Rose Bowl if it wins its remaining four games. It can also dash the national championship hopes of Oregon and Notre Dame, whom it plays Nov. 24, and can even beat the Ducks twice -- Saturday and in the Pac-12 Championship Game (on FOX) -- and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl. Losses to Oregon and Notre Dame, however, would help those teams move closer to a possible national title game berth against likely opponent Alabama. The worthiness of both teams would probably be judged by how convincingly they beat the Trojans. That's certainly no way for USC to finish a season that had so much promise and that Barkley believed would lead to a BCS championship and perhaps the Heisman Trophy for himself. That was the "unfinished business" he talked about when he announced he was returning this season. The Rose Bowl isn't a bad consolation prize, but beating Oregon is no simple task. To win, here are five things the Trojans must do: Get an early edge. Last season, USC ran out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, then had to hang on after the Ducks made a second-half charge with three unanswered touchdowns. It's imperative the Trojans score quickly and keep the pressure on Oregon's explosive offense. Eliminate turnovers and penalties. Obvious point, but winning depends on controlling the ball and avoiding mistakes. USC has turned over the ball 18 times (10 fumbles, eight interceptions) and been penalized an average of 84.6 yards per game. Giving up the ball to Oregon invites trouble, and better discipline is the answer. Look for big plays. Nothing breaks an opponent quite like a quick-strike TD. Barkley's primary weapons, receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, can produce massive chunks of yardage in a hurry. They've combined for 19 touchdowns and average a combined 214 yards receiving. Use them often. Make Oregon grind out its yardage. The Ducks average 540 yards per game, most of it on the ground. If USC can force running back Kenjon Barner, averaging 121 yards rushing per game, to work for every yard he gains and keep him from breaking long runs, the Trojans improve their chances. Play with a chip on their shoulder. The Trojans won last season's game against the Ducks because it was their bowl game. They were still on probation with no chance for a postseason contest. They're in a similar situation again, but eligible for the postseason, and have a chance to show a nationally televised audience that they're better than their two-loss record.
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