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Trojans Return Home with Identity, BCS Dreams
PLAYMAKERS: USC's defense, with conerback Kevin Thomas (15) and defensive end Wes Horton, has only allowed two passing touchdowns all season, both against Notre Dame last week.Â The unit will be tested Saturday against Oregon State duo James and Jaquizz Rogers.Â - Jeff Lewis for Sentinel Revenge Against Rogers Bros is plan for Saturday
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports Editor
USC plays their first home game in a month on Saturday, a far different team than when they left a month.
They were expected to lose to Cal and didn't - embarrassing the Golden Bears in the process. And last week they were supposed to have trouble with Notre Dame and for three quarters, they didn't.
That fourth-quarter comeback highlighted the only problem with this team - going on cruise control without the dependable personnel to ensure victory.
Since the 2006 Rose Bowl, the Trojans haven't given up a major fourth-quarter lead, but Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen nearly put a scare into the team he spurned three years ago for South Bend.
It took three goal line stands to make sure USC would earn their eighth straight victory over their rivals. It turned an easy win into a mental test most expected them to fail, but instead they rose to the occasion.
From where they were a month ago, this a team more comfortable with its identity and in sync offensively. They trust Matt Barkley to run the offense, trust their balanced running game to create havoc and they trust their hard work to create results.
They also find motivation everyday in the encouraging recovery of teammate Stafon Johnson, now out of the hospital and resting at home. All of that has finally made people comfortable to say this team is now fit to be a national title contender.
Such talk was premature at the start of the year but right now, as teams either feast or improve against league foes, few teams will be as battle tested as the Trojans.
The next three weeks will be critical to see if their newfound consistency means reasserting their Pac-10 dominance. And first up is a matter of revenge Saturday against Oregon State and the Rogers Bros.
You remember them. Shifty sophomore Jacquizz Rogers ran wild on the Trojans last year (186 yards, two touchdowns) and big brother James, a junior, caught two touchdowns.
The score might as well as have been Rogers Bros. 27 - USC 21. And both haven't lost a step this year.
James Rogers leads the Pac-10 in receiving and all-purpose yards. Jacquizz Rogers isn't far behind at No. 3 in all-purpose yards while leading the conference in scoring.
Motivation won't be lacking for a Trojans squad that has finally realized who they are and playing at home will only add to their energy of avenging their only loss of 2008.
It'll be another step for the much maligned defense who has quietly played much better than people think. Prior to Notre Dame, they hadn't allowed a passing touchdown all year and that streak continued until the third quarter of last week's game.
Most fans may not be able to name a single player on that side of the ball outside of safety Taylor Mays and maybe middle linebacker Chris Galippo but statwise, they're just as solid as past years.
Shutting down the Rogers Bros. would add another trophy to their case, one that includes Heisman candidate Jahvid Best (47 yards) and Terrelle Pryor.
All eyes will be on No. 7 the rest of the season - not just quarterback Matt Barkley but that's also the Trojans' standing in the first week of the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Think they're out of the running? Consider the teams above them - starting with Florida and Alabama. Both will reach the SEC title game with the winner reaching the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl.
Texas at No. 3? They looked shaky against a Sam Bradford-less Oklahoma. Boise State will be passed up simply because of a weak schedule. Cincinnati and Iowa are underrated by national pundits but there is a chance both could stumble against South Florida and Ohio State.
It's wishful thinking but so was a national title projection in September. Nobody expected the Trojans to have a sniff of the Rose Bowl after looking overmatched against Washington.
But here they stand, a different team a month later. And starting on Saturday, the Coliseum fans will see just how different up close and personal.