Pac 10 on The Line

Despite his team's embarrassing midseason stumble, Southern California coach Pete Carroll has the Trojans in a familiar position - in contention for the Pac-10 title.

First-year Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson and the seventh-ranked Sun Devils, however, stand between the No. 11 Trojans and an unprecedented sixth straight conference crown.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made USC -3 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Thursday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 53% of bets for this game have been placed on USC -3 (View College Football bet percentages).

The Sun Devils look to clinch a share of the Pac-10 title for the first time in 11 years on Thanksgiving when they host the Trojans, who can stay alive in the race with a victory.

Southern California (8-2, 5-2 Pac-10) was ranked No. 2 in the country before its shocking 24-23 home loss against Stanford, snapping its 35-game win streak at the Coliseum and leaving its chances for another first-place finish in question. The Trojans have won at least a share of the conference title in every season since 2002 - Carroll's second year at the helm.

USC's only other loss came against Oregon, which also handed Arizona State (9-1, 6-1) its lone defeat. Oregon, though, suffered its second loss last Thursday at Arizona after losing Heisman hopeful quarterback Dennis Dixon for the season with a torn ACL.

Oregon's defeat left the door open for USC to make a run at another conference championship. If the Trojans win out against Arizona State and UCLA, they can secure a Rose Bowl bid if Oregon loses one of its final two games.

But the Sun Devils control the race heading into this game. If they close the season with wins against USC and Arizona, they'll clinch the conference title and at least a trip to the Rose Bowl. They'd also have an outside shot at playing in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

It's been a remarkable resurrection for an Arizona State team that was 7-6 with a 4-5 conference record last season and that hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since 1997.

Restoring the program to national prominence was Erickson's primary goal when he took over last December, but he's accomplished it far sooner than he imagined.

"I told them that I hoped that I could take them to places like this, where they would have this opportunity, and it's here," Erickson said Monday after his team's bye week. "It's going to be fun for them, and it's fun for me to watch them react to where they're at right now. That's the fun part of coaching."

"Now, playing USC, I don't know how much fun that's going to be."

Southern California, also coming off its bye week, won 24-17 at then-No. 24 California on Nov. 10, thanks in part to tailback Chauncey Washington, who ran for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown in rainy conditions that limited the Trojans' passing game. Washington nearly doubled his previous career high of 119 set Nov. 11, 2006, against Oregon.

"We've been wanting Chauncey to be the energy of the offense," said Carroll, who's undefeated in 22 career games in November. "The last couple weeks, he's been feeling it. You could just tell he was on fire, and there was no way we should take the ball out of his hands."

"So we just rode him, and he was up for the task from start to finish. He's been building to this kind of effort."

Quarterback John David Booty was held to 11 completions on 20 attempts for 129 yards and a touchdown partly because of the weather, but says he's as healthy as he has been since missing three games with a cracked finger suffered in the second quarter of the loss to Stanford.

Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter has also been slowed by an injury this season after spraining the thumb on his throwing hand while handing off to tailback Keegan Herring against Cal on Oct. 27.

The injury has affected Carpenter's ability to grip the football, and could have been partially responsible for his sub-par outing against UCLA on Nov. 10. He completed just 16 of 31 passes for 200 yards - a season low in conference play. However, he threw a touchdown pass and no interceptions in the 31-16 road victory.

"It hurts taking a snap because that's where the ball hits on that part of your thumb," he said Monday. "Handing off with my right hand doesn't feel good, and throwing - all those things. It hurts, and I'm going to play until I can't any more, I guess. Hopefully I'll make it through the U. of A. game."

The Trojans have dominated the series with the Sun Devils lately, winning the last seven meetings by a combined 274-141. Southern California leads the all-time series 14-9, but is just 2-4 against ranked Arizona State teams.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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