Tucson, Arizona - Following a stunning loss a month ago that knocked it from the top of the national rankings, Southern California knew it would have to play close to perfect the rest of the way for a chance at the national title.
So far, that hasn't been a problem.
Coming off back-to-back shutout victories, the sixth-ranked Trojans look to continue their dominance on Saturday and win their seventh straight game over Arizona, one of four teams tied atop the Pac-10.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made USC –15.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on USC –15.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
USC (5-1, 3-1) opened the season with impressive wins over Virginia and then-No. 5 Ohio State, but a 27-21 loss at Oregon State on Sept. 25 dropped the Trojans to No. 9 in the nation.
USC didn't stay down for long, however, as it has responded by outscoring its opponents 141-10 during a three-game win streak.
"We knew that after that game that our season was far from over,'' said Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez, who leads the Pac-10 with 19 touchdown passes. "We had a great chance to bounce back, and that's exactly what we wanted to do, bounce back and prove that we are a great team. And I think we are doing that.''
USC was outstanding in last Saturday's 69-0 victory over Washington State, one week after a 28-0 win over Arizona State - the first time the program recorded consecutive shutouts since 1971. It has not had three straight shutouts since 1947.
Sanchez completed 15 of 20 passes for 253 yards, and tied the school record with five scoring throws - shared with Rodney Peete, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart - with 4:51 still remaining in the second quarter.
The Trojans outgained the Cougars 408-17 in the first half and 625-116 overall en route to their largest shutout victory since a 69-0 win over Montana in 1931.
"Oh, I think we're on the up and up. We're ready to be peak at the right time,'' Sanchez said.
Sanchez leads the nation's eighth-best scoring offense (41.5 points per game), a unit that has averaged 536.7 yards in its last three games.
The Trojans have been just as good on the other side of the ball, leading the country in scoring defense (7.8 ppg) while preventing the Cougars from crossing midfield last Saturday.
Behind its high-powered offense and stingy defense, USC has been recognized as the fifth-ranked team in the year's first BCS standings.
"We have a chance to really make this turn here with a lot of things going in our favor,'' coach Pete Carroll said. "I'm really fired up about where we are. I'm fired up because of the way the defense is playing, front to back.''
Although the Trojans' defense has not allowed a point in 10 quarters, it may have a tough time shutting down the Wildcats, who boast the nation's ninth-ranked scoring offense (40.4 ppg).
Arizona (5-2, 3-1) is coming off a 42-27 home win over then-No. 25 California, scoring 28 points in an 11:45 span in the third quarter. The win moved the Wildcats into a tie atop the conference standings with USC, Oregon and Oregon State.
"It's a big game, for first place in the Pac-10,'' coach Mike Stoops said. "I don't think any more really has to be said. Our kids know we haven't accomplished anything yet.''
Arizona Stadium has been a tough place for opponents this season, as the Wildcats have won their four home games by an average of 36.0 points. They have also won four of their last five at home against Top 25 opponents, with the only blemish in that stretch a 20-3 loss to No. 3 USC on Sept. 23, 2006.
The Trojans have won six straight over Arizona since a 31-15 loss in Tucson on Oct. 7, 2000.
In last season's 20-13 victory, the Trojans trailed in the fourth quarter before scoring the game's final 10 points in the last 10 minutes. Sanchez made his first career start for USC in that game, and completed 19 of 31 passes for 130 yards.
Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama, the school's all-time leader in passing yards (7,814) and touchdowns (59), will be joined in the backfield by Nic Grigsby and freshman Keola Antolin.
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Antolin ran for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries against the Golden Bears after replacing Grigsby, who fumbled on his first carry.
Stoops said Grigsby will get the start against the Trojans, but Antolin is also expected to get some carries.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
ARIZONA is 7-6 against the spread versus USC since 1992
USC is 10-3 straight up against ARIZONA since 1992
7 of 12 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
ARIZONA is 2-0 against the spread versus USC over the last 3 seasons
USC is 2-0 straight up against ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at ARIZONA since 1992
ARIZONA is 3-3 against the spread versus USC since 1992
USC is 4-2 straight up against ARIZONA since 1992
4 of 6 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons.
ARIZONA is 1-0 against the spread versus USC over the last 3 seasons
USC is 1-0 straight up against ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[LB] Michael Morgan injured last game, %27?%27 - Concussion - 10/07/08
(!) [QB] Mark Sanchez is probable - Knee - 10/05/08
[RB] Marc Tyler is %27?%27 - Hip - 10/09/08
[FB] Stanley Havili is upgraded to probable - Neck - 10/09/08
[RB] Allen Bradford downgraded to expected to miss - Hip - 10/08/08
[WR] Vidal Hazelton upgraded to probable - Ankle - 10/08/08
[TE] Rhett Ellison is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. - Fibula - 10/03/08
[OL] Zack Heberer out indefinitely. - Toe - 09/30/08
[C] Michael Reardon is out indefinitely - Hip - 09/07/08
[OG] Jeff Byers is "?". - Knee - 10/08/08
[LB] Rey Maualuga missed last game, upgraded to probable - Knee - 10/05/08
[CB] Shareece Wright is expected to miss up to 6 weeks. - Neck - 09/23/08
No significant injuries.
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Posted: 10/22/08 12:05 AM