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College football notebook: Can anyone stop USC?
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Mike Bellotti has been asked it all this week, from Reggie Bush to Matt Leinart to USC's place in history.
He wasn't asked this: If you win the toss tomorrow in Eugene, do you defer?
Defer to a fearsome offense, one that Bellotti is calling best in the Pac-10 since he arrived in 1989? Defer to the nitroglycerine in maroon and gold?
It's not an easy call. Last week, Oregon went to a no-huddle offense with great success, but that could be fool's gold against the Trojans. Do you really want to do anything that accelerates USC's offense getting back on the field?
Bellotti, the Oregon coach, says Washington's 1991 national-championship defense is the best he can remember. But USC "is certainly the most explosive offensive team I've seen," he says. "The Penn State team we played in the  Rose Bowl was pretty good, but this one tops that."
That Penn State team had three of the top nine picks in the 1995 draft. This Trojans edition has a quarterback, Matt Leinart, with a ridiculous 243.7 pass-efficiency rating. Last week in eviscerating Arkansas, USC ran eight plays in the first quarter and scored four touchdowns in a combined 92 seconds.
QB Matt Leinart
The Trojans' field general has a 243.7 pass-efficiency rating after two games. He helped USC score four first-quarter TDs last week.
But the most staggering number of all is the one established by oddsmakers: 22 in the Times' Daily Line, the Trojans began a 17-point favorite on Sunday and were bet up to 19 ½ by the end of the day. Another day later, they were up to 21.
Oregon was last such a big underdog at home in 1978, a 19-point 'dog to both UCLA and USC's co-national champions. But that was a 2-9 Oregon team playing at an Autzen Stadium that didn't even sell out for either game (USC drew 31,000).
By all accounts, this is a highly capable Oregon team, averaging 41 points a game, in one of the most roiling atmospheres in college football.
And they're a three-touchdown underdog.
Remember that sizzling story line of August, about how a scorned Norm Chow had left the program, passing the reins of offensive stewardship to the callow Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, and USC might struggle? Uh, check that. The Trojans have scored 133 points in two games.
"If anything, I think they're more aggressive," Bellotti said. "I see more down-the-field throws, not going underneath as much. That may be the fact [wide receiver] Steve Smith is healthy."
USC @ Oregon, 4 p.m. (Channel 4)
This week, Carroll made nice with Chow, saying, "Norm is the greatest assistant coach in the history of college football, maybe ... however, I thought we had a chance to not lose a step, continuity-wise."
And he added this: "We're still going to be challenged."
On that hook, Bellotti is hanging a hat. Last year, before USC chilled Oklahoma in the title game by 36 points, it struggled to beat four different Pac-10 teams. It's your brothers, not distant cousins, who know you best.
"Yes, I do feel that even though we haven't played them last two years, you see them on film and you figure out things you can do," Bellotti said. "And probably some things you're going to stay away from."
Arkansas began playing man-to-man defense in the secondary, blew coverages and played exclusively zone in the second half, long after it was out of reach.
"We were misaligned a couple of times, and we had missed tackles," Hogs coach Houston Nutt said Wednesday, citing the youth of one safety. "There was a little bit of a shell-shock factor."
The pressure will thus be extreme on the Oregon secondary, not the Ducks' best unit in recent years, or they could feel like Arkansas tailback Peyton Hillis did.
"Personally," he told a reporter after the game last week, "they made me feel like a little kid out there."
Maybe stats are for losers
Syracuse has a plus-eight turnover ratio, is allowing only 293 yards a game and limits opponents to 29 percent on third-down conversions. And the Orangemen are 1-2.
1. USC (2-0)
Still, time of possession remains a grave concern.
2. UCLA (3-0)
Dorrell so jacked, had a root beer float Saturday night.
3. California (3-0)
Forsett no Dorsett, but he's not bad, either.
4. Arizona State (2-1)
QB controversy brewing: Why didn't Keller start last year?
5. Oregon (3-0)
D-coordinator Aliotti found hiding under desk on Monday.
6. WSU (3-0)
Always on cutting edge, Cougars playing an AA-B-C schedule.
7. Oregon State (2-1)
DBs to be featured on future episode of "Lost."
8. Washington (1-2)
Spacing briefly, Willingham ordered Irish practices closed.
9. Arizona (1-2)
Remains right on schedule for Rose Bowl, in about 2080.
10. Stanford (1-1)
Like we said, Cardinal has a chance to surprise this year.
Notre Dame 30, UW 17
Will Huskies rally 'round their coach?
USC 39, Oregon 28
First time in Autzen cauldron for most of Trojans.
Arizona State 35, OSU 24
No September picnic for Beavers.
Cal 41, New Mexico State 14
Bears can't get many more players banged up.
Last week — 7-3. Season — 14-4.
Oregon State ran 94 plays last week to Louisville's 50. And the Beavers lost 63-27.
Arkansas controlled the clock for more than 34 minutes against USC. And lost by 53 points.
Louisiana-Monroe had the ball almost 37 minutes at Georgia. And lost 44-7.
Two days after his team was nipped by Oregon, Fresno State coach Pat Hill was boiling about officiating. His Bulldogs were whistled for 16 penalties for 155 yards.
"I've said in the past, just to avoid the comment, we were an undisciplined team," Hill fumed. "I'm not saying it this time. We were not an undisciplined team."
After his team's 17-point lead shrunk to 17-13, Hill says, "It was a green light. Oregon was playing very aggressively, and we were walking on eggshells, afraid to make a penalty."
Memo to Ducks: Beware your return trip to Fresno next September.
West klutz offense
ABC must have loved the fact it chose to air the Nebraska-Pitt game, won by the Huskers and their West Coast offense, 7-6.
Television analyst Gary Danielson called it "embarrassing ... you would not expect this from a high-school team after three games, to be frank."
Sideline reporter Jack Arute stuck his microphone at Huskers coach Bill Callahan later and said, "Let's talk about your offense, coach."
"Let's not," retorted Callahan.
For the first time since Nov. 3, 1969, neither Nebraska nor Oklahoma is in the AP Top 25.
This is the week Colorado was preparing for on those "Miami Fridays," a diabolical exercise hatched during the summer by Buffs strength coach Greg Finnegan. He and maintenance personnel routinely cranked up the heat and even tried to introduce some humidity into the air for players' weight workouts on Fridays, trying to simulate the conditions they'll face tomorrow at Miami.
Temperatures were about 90, and some players were puzzled, because Miami was third on the schedule. But the Buffs are 2-0 entering a tough four-game stretch that includes both the Hurricanes and Texas.
The leash is growing shorter for Kentucky's Rich Brooks, the ex-Oregon coach, whose 1-2 team was drubbed by Indiana 38-14 last week, dropping him to 7-19 over three seasons. This week, school president Lee Todd was quoted by AP as saying he was disappointed by Kentucky's "energy" in the game.
Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich wrote, "Send me your names. Names for the next University of Kentucky head football coach ... Rich Brooks is not the guy who can give the UK football program the emotional juice it needs to compete in the SEC — or even against Indiana."
Brooks' team has been hard-hit by injuries. That probably won't faze the Wildcats' next opponent — Florida.
The end around
• Anybody have a Pac-10 comparison for Cal-Davis' shocker over Stanford, a much more extraordinary surprise than anything by Idaho or Montana? The Aggies, still in transition from Division II to I-AA, had 17 scholarships two years ago, 37 now, and had lost at home to Portland State and New Hampshire.
• Eight bowl scouts at the Duke-VMI game? Actually, they were on hand as a prelude to home games Saturday evening at N.C. State and North Carolina. Only 10,126 attended, the smallest crowd at Duke since 1966.
• Alabama (3-0), No. 20, is in the polls for the first time since 2002, or before the Mike Price fiasco.
• If you think you've seen some big scores already, brace yourself for Texas Tech-Indiana State. The Red Raiders beat Sam Houston State 80-21, and Larry Bird's old school is a Division I-AA bottom-feeder, blown out earlier 42-10 by St. Francis (Ind.), an NAIA program.
National high five
9 a.m. (ESPN)
No. 11 Purdue (2-0) at Minnesota (3-0): Boilermakers somehow miss both Ohio State and Michigan this year, so this becomes bigger. Gophers are No. 1 nationally in rushing (335 yards a game), Purdue is tops in run defense (16-yard average).
12:30 p.m. (Ch. 4)
No. 16 Notre Dame (2-1) at Washington (1-2): The game will tell a lot more than UW coach Tyrone Willingham is willing to say about it. Huskies are winless in five tries against Irish.
3 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 14 Michigan (2-1) at Wisconsin (3-0): The 14th-ranked Wolverines will try to win their 24th straight Big Ten opener. The Badgers have the nation's 6th-best rushing average (272.3 yards), but that will be tested vs. Michigan.
4 p.m. (Ch. 4)
No. 1 USC (2-0) at No. 24 Oregon (3-0): How dominating were the Trojans in beating Arkansas, 70-17? "We felt guilty we could only rank them No. 1," said the Hogs' Houston Nutt, a member of the coaches poll.
7 p.m. (TBS)
No. 18 Arizona State (2-1) at Oregon State (2-1): Reser Stadium expansion has brought about the end of OSU's 28-game sellout streak. Tuesday, some 4,000 tickets were unsold, and TV won't help.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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