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Originally published Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Bud Withers

Oregon, USC will take their dispute to the field on Saturday

With war of words between coaches behind them, Ducks and Trojans will meet on Saturday with Oregon's unbeaten record and national-title hopes on the line.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Before the games, we have the gamesmanship.

To steal from ESPN's style of billing, this could be Seminal Saturday in college football, a day when the race to be in the national-title game outside Phoenix on Jan. 10 gets turned upside down.

One of those potential game-changers has Oregon at USC, whose coaches this week engaged in a bit of tit-for-tat that spices an already provocative matchup.

Something — maybe Lane Kiffin's laments about depth in recent weeks — shook Oregon's Chip Kelly to attention, and he took unusual pains to point out that USC, even an NCAA-chastened USC, isn't exactly Louisiana-Monroe.

"In their two-deep, out of 44 players, they have 12 five-star recruits and 26 four-star recruits," Kelly told The Oregonian. "I don't know if there is anybody in the country who has that.

"I keep hearing USC is down in talent. We have zero five-star recruits in our top 44 and 11 four-star recruits."

You don't have to be Oliver Stone to extrapolate a conclusion: "We're coaching the snot out of our kids, and they're the biggest underachievers since the 2010 Cowboys."

Responded Kiffin to L.A. reporters: "I really wish I had enough players, or we were good enough coaches, that we could spend enough time counting how many four- and five-star players we have on each other's rosters. I don't have time for that, unfortunately."

Asked about what Kiffin said, Kelly replied, "I don't know what his schedule is. It only took me 45 seconds to do it."

In the Kelly-Kiffin Krazy Talk sweepstakes, got to side this time with Tommy Trojan. If there's anything dumber than the recruiting obsession with four- and five-star recruits, it's coaches weighing in on the value of four and five stars.

The game offers plenty, absent the verbal tomfoolery. The most succulent subplot is whether Kiffin's dad, Monte, the old warhorse defensive guru from the NFL, has devised something that will slow down the typhoon disguised as Oregon's offense.

Lane admitted that, in a way, his team has been preparing for a few weeks on Oregon, speeding its tempo in practice.

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"I just think if you do it only the week of the game, it's not going to help you," he said.

Kiffin also expressed pleasure with his team being the hunter, rather than playing its old role of everybody's prey. This marks the first time USC has hosted a top-ranked team in the polls since Notre Dame in 1988.

"For so long, we were the No. 1 team," said Kiffin, a former assistant on Pete Carroll's staff. "It's hard when everybody's shooting for you every week."

Now, about the weekend: Seven unbeatens remain, same as the past two years in Week 9. The potential for an upheaval looks real, which would train a lot of focus on the BCS over the final weeks.

A primer on the spotless seven, with BCS ranking:

Auburn (1)

Why the Tigers might stay unbeaten: Cam Newton is the leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman, running and passing defenses to death. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley has shot up draft boards and is a projected high first-round pick.

Why they won't: The Tigers allow 249 yards a game passing, and they still have to play at Alabama. They go to Mississippi on Saturday.

Oregon (2)

Why the Ducks might stay unbeaten: LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing yards per game, Darron Thomas has been dynamic at quarterback, tackle Brandon Bair leads the Pac-10 in tackles for loss, and Oregon tops the nation in turnover margin.

Why they won't: The Ducks walk into a lion's den at USC, and they've got to finish at Oregon State, which owes them one.

Boise State (3)

Why the Broncos might stay unbeaten: Kellen Moore leads the country in pass efficiency. The defense plays fast, tackles consistently and is underrated. It held Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, backs who totaled 3,000 yards last year, to 40 and 46, respectively.

Why they won't. Awww ... they will. But a Nov. 26 date at Nevada could be tricky.

Texas Christian (4)

Why the Frogs might stay unbeaten: With a good offensive balance, they have outgained foes by a remarkable 2,000 yards. The always-truculent defense has allowed 10 points in the past four games and begrudges only 24 percent conversions on third downs.

Why they won't: Frogs meet a good Air Force team Saturday and must go to Utah on Nov. 6.

Michigan State (5)

Why the Spartans might stay unbeaten: Good run-pass balance with Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Defense features a big-time linebacker in Greg Jones and has 13 interceptions.

Why they won't: Spartans are at Iowa on Saturday, just their second time out of state this season. But get by that, and it's a relatively easy cruise to stay undefeated.

Missouri (6)

Why the Tigers might stay unbeaten: Blaine Gabbert throws for 271 yards a game.

Why they won't: Tigers have nobody in the Big 12 top 10 in rushing, top 15 in tackles or top five in sacks. They're at Nebraska on Saturday, and would have a league-title game down the line.

Utah (8)

Why the Utes might stay unbeaten: They're a scoring machine, converting 56 percent of third downs behind QB Jordan Wynn. They recently put up 170 points in a three-game stretch.

Why they won't: They've fumbled it away eight times, and that Nov. 6 game with TCU looks troublesome.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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