Not so favorite

Since it began its unprecedented run of five straight Pac-10 titles, Southern California has been favored to win each of its 45 conference games. That streak will come to an end this weekend.

The ninth-ranked Trojans will be underdogs when they visit No. 5 Oregon on Saturday in the first matchup between top-10 teams in the 41-year history of Autzen Stadium.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Oregon -3 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 59% of bets for this game have been placed on USC +3 (View College Football bet percentages).

USC hasn't been an underdog against a Pac-10 opponent since Nov. 17, 2001, when it upset UCLA 27-0 in the regular-season finale. The Trojans (6-1, 3-1), though, have been uncharacteristically shaky in conference games lately, and the Ducks (6-1, 3-1) enter this game as the higher-ranked team.

"We like it," USC cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "The rest of the season is all about respect for us. We're still SC football. We're after respect, we've got to get that back. When you lose a game like we did, that's what happens."

In its last three Pac-10 contests - all against unranked teams - USC has outscored opponents by an unimpressive 70-61 margin. In that stretch, the Trojans suffered their only loss of the year, falling 24-23 at home against Stanford for their first defeat at the Coliseum since Sept. 29, 2001.

They will likely need a better effort against Oregon, which has used one of the nation's best offenses to earn its highest ranking since it finished the 2001 season as the No. 2 team in the country.

The Ducks are averaging 46.6 points per game, second in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind Hawaii. They're also second in total offense with 550.9 yards per game, trailing only Texas Tech.

Oregon's prolific offense was on display last Saturday, when the Ducks racked up a school-record 465 rushing yards in a 55-34 win over Washington. The Ducks also had a program-record 39 first downs, and their 661 total yards were six shy of yet another record.

"It's really, really unbelievable," Oregon left tackle Max Unger said. "It's a pretty unbelievable feeling when you see the (defensive) line and you can choose what runs you want to do. That's never really happened before."

The Ducks were playing their first full game without running back Jeremiah Johnson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury the previous week against Washington State. Jonathan Stewart picked up the slack in Johnson's absence, running for a career-high 251 yards on 32 carries with two touchdowns.

Quarterback Dennis Dixon added 99 yards and a rushing TD while passing for 196 yards and another score.

"When somebody goes down like Jeremiah last week, somebody has to step up," said Stewart, whose rushing total was the second-highest in school history. "Right now we're not missing a beat."

Stewart leads the Pac-10 and ranks sixth in the FBS with 134.3 rushing yards per game, but was held to 42 yards on 14 carries against the Trojans last season.

On Saturday, the Ducks can expect another challenge from a USC defense which ranks third in the FBS with just 252.1 total yards allowed per game. The Trojans, though, haven't faced an offense as good as Oregon's.

"I love this challenge," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "This may be the best offense we've ever seen. Nobody's been able to slow them down. We've got to find a way. I think we're ready to turn the corner. You can just feel it. We're getting better, we're getting stronger."

Carroll's team is coming off a 38-0 rout of Notre Dame last Saturday. Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes while playing in place of injured starter John David Booty as the Trojans took advantage of the now 1-7 Irish.

"We've been pretty well banged up, got shocked a few weeks back, and it was really important for us to gain our stride," Carroll said. "We felt coming into this week we were getting stronger."

USC will gain even more confidence if Booty can return. The one-time Heisman hopeful has missed back-to-back games with a broken middle finger on his throwing hand. He threw in practice Tuesday without the glove he used last week, but still felt pain in the finger.

"It felt fine, much better," Booty said. "I was making all the throws today you generally have to make in a game. There were a couple that got away from me. The pain really wasn't that bad. Hopefully I can do the same thing tomorrow I could do today."

Carroll said he doesn't have a timetable on naming a starter.

The Trojans got outgained by the Ducks last Nov. 11, but still cruised to a 35-10 victory - their third straight in the series after a four-game losing streak against Oregon. With a 36-15-2 record in the all-time series, USC has a higher winning percentage against Oregon than it does against any other Pac-10 opponent.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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