5 Reasons Why Both Oregon and USC Will Win the PAC-12, And the 1 Reason Why Neither of Them Will
College football is almost here! We’ve braved the barren sports landscape of summer, admittedly made a little easier by the Olympics but they don’t play football so they’re not much help. And we are so, so close to being able to gorge ourselves on four TV’s, a laptop or two, and an iPad all playing college football simultaneously once again.
The PAC-12 is almost unanimously a two horse race this year between Oregon in the North division, and USC in the South. Both fan bases are justifiably albeit preemptively talking about BCS National Championship hopes. I want any pundit that actually picks someone other than the Ducks or Trojans to show me their betting slip to prove that they actually believe someone else has a shot and they’re not just picking Utah for the shock value. So, because everyone believes it’s a foregone conclusion that Chip Kelly and Lane Kiffin will meet in the PAC-12 Championship, here’s a list of the 5 reasons why both teams will beat each other (and everyone else on their schedule) and win the PAC-12.
1. Chip Kelly:
This will only be Chip Kelly’s fourth season as head coach of the Ducks. Think about that for a second. What Coach Kelly has done in his first three seasons leading Oregon is unbelievable and certainly unprecedented in the history of the program. And this being his fourth year leading the Ducks, the roster is finally in a spot where Kelly recruited all of the playmakers. The Ducks appeared in three straight BCS Bowls without even having the “right” players to fit Kelly’s spread scheme. Now that he has players handpicked to run his offense and defense the way he wants, we could be in for a real treat watching this team. Plus, there’s no doubt in my mind that Kelly can outcoach Lane Kiffin in a head to head matchup.
2. The Schedule:
While season ticket holders may be angry that the U of O is starting out their season with three cupcake non-conference games, that means the schedule works out where the Ducks will almost certainly be undefeated heading into their November 3rd showdown with the Trojans at the Coliseum. Following the non-conference schedule, the Ducks will take on Arizona, Washington, and Colorado. Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez will inherit a new quarterback (although Matt Scott is probably a better fit for the spread than the immovable blonde tree Nick Foles) and a defense that was horrendous last season, Oregon is trying to beat U-dub for the eighth straight year, and Colorado is just Colorado. No LSU’s on the schedule means a lot of wins.
Depth is one of the most tangible advantages that Oregon has over USC. Although SC can now play in a bowl game for the first time in a few years because of NCAA sanctions, their scholarships are still limited to just 75. This means that injuries will play a huge factor in their ability to produce. And even if USC manages to keep all of their starters healthy, they won’t be able to rotate in seven or eight defensive lineman like LSU and Auburn were able to, which was one of the most important factors in deciding the outcomes of the 2011 BCS Championship and the Cowboy Classic last year. Without depth, Oregon’s speed wears you down like “Call Me Maybe,” eventually it’ll get you to sing…eventually.
Oregon’s defense has been playing spectacular if underappreciated football for the last few years. There’s a reason why Nick Aliotti has 20 years experience in college football. It’s because he knows what he’s doing and he’s been able to change his scheme throughout the years to get the most out of the players he has. And this could be a banner year for the Oregon defense. The Ducks could have one of the best secondaries in the country. With John Boyett quarterbacking the defense from his free safety spot and the talented sophomore cornerbacks playing with a year’s experience under their belt, the back four should be picking off passes left and right. Put that together with a front seven led by Dion Jordan, who figures to be a high-round NFL pick if he plays well this season and monster freshman Arik Armstead, and you have the recipe for a fast, ball hawking defense that won’t break when it comes time to face Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, and the rest of the SC offense.
You knew he had to be mentioned somewhere on this list. DAT. The Black Mamba. The Second Coming of Usain Bolt. De’Anthony Thomas is a weapon the likes of which no one else in the country has. He has to be the ideal player for Chip Kelly’s spread offense. He can play multiple positions lining up in the backfield or as a slot wideout, he’s blazing fast, and he has the moves to shake anyone if he’s given even the smallest inch of space. When it comes down to making big plays in big games like the ones that will be needed against USC, De’Anthony can be counted on. He should be even better than he was last year, when he started off shaky against LSU and capped off the season with an exclamation, running for 155 yards and two touchdowns on just two carries. Thank God he decided to go to Oregon instead of USC.
1: Matt Barkley
When Barkley announced on December 22nd, every Trojan fan got an early Christmas present and everyone else in the conference got a much tougher road to the PAC-12 Championship. Barkley has been a game-changer ever since his days at Mater Dei in high school and that dominance has continued into the college game. I would be hard pressed to find any quarterback in the country who gets from his first receiver to his third receiver faster than USC’s Barkley and when he decides to throw the ball, he gets it out in a hurry. Barkley is deservedly a preseason Heisman candidate and will be a tough test for Oregon’s secondary. I can’t wait until he’s playing in the NFL and not facing Oregon.
2: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee
No matter how good Matt Barkley is, he can’t run an offense by himself. As Gisele would say, he “cannot f*****g throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.” That’s where the terrifying tandem of Lee and Woods come in. Combining for over 2,400 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, any QB would be happy to have one receiver of their caliber, much less two. Lee played a huge role in beating the Ducks last season at Autzen and if Oregon plans on making it four straight PAC-10/12 championships, they’ll have to find a way to shut down these guys.
Although the Trojans don’t have BCS Bowl experience, they return 15 starters and both kicking specialists. That points to the fact that they won’t take a Hawaii or Syracuse lightly and blow an early game like they got close to doing last season. As long as their starters remain healthy, they’ll be able to draw off of tons of knowledge from earlier college games, rather than having to worry about breaking in new talent.
4: Talented Underclassmen
Not that the Trojans would be too worried even if they did have to break in new players. The Trojans have ranked in the top 15 of the ESPN recruiting poll for the last three years and this year they have two hyped, five-star recruits in George Farmer and Nelson Agholor waiting in the wings behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee in case one of the top wideouts gets injured. USC always has the pick of the litter of California, and considering 1 in 12 Americans is a Californian and they have one of the most extensive high school football traditions, that bodes well for the Trojans. It seems like SC always has recruits waiting to step up even if they’re limited to 75 scholarships.
5: Silas Redd:
The main concern for the Trojans is depth. And one of the main areas of concern for USC was the backfield depth behind senior Curtis McNeal. If he goes down, a defense can key on Matt Barkley and the passing attack and no matter how good a quarterback, wide receiver combo is, if a defense is looking pass every play the offense is going to struggle. Picking up Silas Redd from Penn State after the NCAA sanctions at State College allowed any player to transfer from the Nittany Lions was a big move for Kiffin and the Trojans. Redd allows USC to add a little more balance to their already deadly offense and that’s bad news for opposing defenses.
The one reason neither USC nor Oregon will win the PAC-12:
The apocalypse happened. Do you seriously see anyone but these two teams playing for the PAC-12 championship (and possibly the right to go to the BCS National Championship) on November 30th? Barring a catastrophic string of injuries, not even Lane Kiffin can mess up the Trojans schedule this year. No one in the South looks like decent competition for them. Although they did stumble in the first half of last season, they finished like the dominant team that everyone thought they could be on paper. And when the second ranked team in the PAC-12 South is 33rd in the preseason rankings, the other teams are gonna have a bad time. For Oregon, the Ducks will look to cruise through the North division and cement their place as a PAC-12 dynasty with a fourth straight conference championship. Their only real competition last year was against Stanford, who proved they were too slow and lacking depth to compete even with Andrew Luck. November 3rd and 30th are going to be two of the best days of the college football season. Can’t wait.
 Three conference championships are as many as Oregon won in the 89 years combined. AND WE FINALLY WON A ROSE BOWL!!!!
 Only winning by two against Minnesota? By nine against Utah? A far closer game than it should’ve been against Arizona? Despite the Trojans finishing the season strongly enough to wipe everyone’s mind clean like someone who just witnessed an alien attack in MIB, they looked downright pedestrian in some of their games in the first half of the 2011 season.