LOS ANGELES – No. 8 Oregon takes a seven-game winning streak with it to Los Angeles on Saturday night to face South Division co-leader USC in what could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 6 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The Trojans also could be the last obstacle for the Ducks, who own a 2 1/2 game lead in the North Division, from completing a 11-1 regular-season campaign.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Oregon -4.5
Oregon, back in the conversation for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, finishes conference play with a home game against Arizona (4-4) followed by a road contest at Arizona State (5-3) and concludes the regular-season with its annual Civil War battle with rebuilding Oregon State (3-4). USC, meanwhile, holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with South Division co-leader Utah (7-1, 4-1), which plays at Washington Saturday in a rematch of last year's conference title game, by virtue of its 30-23 victory over the Utes earlier this season. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said its important for his team to remain focused on the task at hand and not get caught up in what he called "outside noise" about a potential CFP berth. "That's always going to be the monster we're faced with," Cristobal said. "I think you quickly acknowledge the fact that it's there, but you also acknowledge the fact that, OK, we're having success, we're climbing -- but we're also climbing because other teams had some mishaps on Saturday. Our operation and our process is working because it's as simple as, this is the most important game of the year because it's the next game."
ABOUT OREGON (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12 North)
Senior quarterback Justin Herbert, a candidate to be the top pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, is second only to 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota in school history in career passing yards (9,174 to Mariota’s 10,796) and touchdown passes (84 to Mariota’s 105) and has thrown just one interception in his last 307 pass attempts. He plays behind arguably the Pac-12′s top offensive line led by sophomore left tackle Penei Sewell and senior guard Shane Lemieux and benefits from a strong running game led by sophomore CJ Verdell who had 313 all-purpose yards in last Saturday’s 37-35 shootout win over Washington State. The defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in four different categories including scoring (14.8 points allowed per game) and touchdowns allowed (12) and leads the nation with 14 interceptions, including four by nickel back Jevon Holland.
ABOUT USC (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12 South)
The Trojans are 4-0 at the refurbished Coliseum with wins over Fresno State (31-23), Stanford (45-20), Utah (30-23) and Arizona (41-14) and hold a 24-8-1 mark against the Ducks in games played in Los Angeles. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, tutored in high school by NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, ranks second in the Pac-12 and sixth nationally in completion percentage (72.3) and was 30-of-44 for 406 yards, four TDs and an interception in the Trojans 35-31 victory at Colorado last Friday. He has a trio of NFL-caliber wide receivers to throw to in senior Michael Pittman Jr. (50 catches, 755 yards, seven TDs), junior Tyler Vaughns (50 catches, 638 yards, five TDs) and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown (40 catches, 432 yards, four TDs) but the key will be how well a defense led by John Houston Jr. (70 tackles, 2.5 sacks) can slow down the high-powered Oregon offense.
1. USC leads the series 38-20-2 but Oregon has won four of the last six meetings.
2. Verdell (257 yards rushing, 56 yards receiving) became the first FBS player since Oklahoma's Joe Mixon in 2016 to have 250 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in the same game last Saturday against Washington State.
3. In 13 career Pac-12 road games (12 starts), Herbert has thrown 30 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
PREDICTION: USC 31, Oregon 27