UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin (Dorsey High School) helped the Bruins grind out a 21-14 victory over Utah. Photo by Jason Lewis
USC remains in limbo
It's hard to figure this USC team out, or figure out where they are going. On one hand, they are No. 11 in the nation with a 5-1 record, and they are in a position that if they run the table they may have a shot at getting in the BCS National Championship Game.
But on the other hand, everybody is still waiting for this team to do something special. To look like the world beaters that everybody thought they would be before the season, when they were the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
So what is USC? Are they contenders? If they run the table, with wins against AP No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Notre Dame (both games will be at the Coliseum), then yes, they are contenders. But looking at this team's body of work, can they run the table?
The strength of this team was supposed to be their passing offense. When quarterback Matt Barkley announced that he was coming back for his senior season, he was nearly crowned the Heisman Trophy winner, and USC was destined to win the national title. With NFL caliber wide receivers and a pair of 1,000 yard running backs, this offense was supposed to set the nation on fire, and Barkley was going to be the top pick in next year's NFL draft.
On paper that was all true, but on the field that has not been the case. Barkley has been out of the Heisman race since losing at Stanford a month ago, and USC's passing offense has been struggling as of late. USC ranks 50th in the nation passing the ball, and on third down, where a quarterback "earns his money," USC is only converting at 30.1 percent, which is 116th in the nation. Over the past couple games there has been more of a focus on the running game and there have been third downs, where they were in obvious passing situations, where they ran the ball.
Last week at Washington, Barkley only attempted 20 passes while Silas Redd had 26 carries for 155 yards, and Curtis McNeal (Venice High School) had 11 carries for 58 yards. For the game USC ran the ball 40 times compared to only 20 passing attempts.
Over the past three games, all victories after losing to Stanford, USC has run the ball more than passing it in each contest. They have run the ball 112 times over those three victories, while only passing it 84 times. Over their first three games they ran the ball 86 times, compared to 112 passes.
Everybody was buzzing about Barkley and the passing offense before the Stanford loss, when Barkley threw 10 touchdowns to only one interception in the first two games of the season. Since then, over the past four games he has only thrown six touchdowns with five interceptions. Against Stanford he only completed 48 percent of his passes, and in their 24-14 victory over Washington, he only completed 50 percent of his passes.
USC may have NFL caliber players at wide receiver and quarterback, but they are not living up to their preseason hype.
USC has kept themselves in the hunt for the BCS title, but everybody is waiting for them to look like a dominant team. If they can do that then they will be in the running as teams above them lose. But if they continue to play in the fashion that they have, they will not have much chance to knock off Oregon, Notre Dame, and a couple of tough PAC 12 school.
This Saturday USC will host Colorado, who has a 1-5 record.
UCLA keeps pushing along
At this point of the season for UCLA, their 21-14 victory this past Saturday over Utah was a good thing. They are not competing for a national title. They would not admit to it, but they are not even competing for the PAC 12 title (even though an Arizona St. loss tonight against Oregon puts them only one game behind first place Arizona St. and USC in the South standings).
After being routed by a bad Cal team a week earlier, UCLA had to show something positive to keep the fan base on board with this new coaching staff.
UCLA needs to continue to make strides to become a legitimate program. Right now they are only one win away from equalling their win total from a year ago, and they have five games remaining.
If this team can finish around 8-4, and be competitive against USC, then this season will be viewed as a step in the right direction.
UCLA has a bye this week, and they will travel to Arizona St. next Saturday.
National Title Race
The first BCS standings came out earlier this week, and Oregon, even though they are No. 2 in every meaningful poll, are No. 3, behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida.
It was no surprise that Alabama took the top spot, but Florida was not even a top 10 team a couple weeks ago, while Oregon has been a top five team the entire season, and they have held the No. 2 spot the past few weeks.
Oregon has not had a close game yet, but at the same time they have not defeated a top 20 team yet, and they have only defeated two ranked opponents. So they do not have a defining victory.
Florida on the other hand has one big victory over LSU, who was No. 4 in the nation at the time.
Looking down the line for the top three BCS teams, Alabama and Florida will not both go undefeated. They both have highly ranked opponents on their schedules (Florida plays No. 7 South Carolina on Saturday), and if they do both finish the regular season undefeated, they will have to face each other in the SEC Championship Game.
Oregon has some tough games left. They play USC, No. 8 Oregon St., and No. 22 Stanford, as well as the PAC-12 Championship Game. But even with tough teams left on the schedule, they can go undefeated.
If Oregon does finish undefeated, one team that can threaten their chances is No. 5 Notre Dame, who finally have a defense to compete with the best teams in the nation. Half of their six victories have come against ranked opponents, and they have USC and No. 9 Oklahoma on their schedule.
If Notre Dame can finish undefeated, with five victories over ranked opponents, they might as well be No. 1 in the BCS, because they will get as automatic of a bid to the title game as any team could get.
One team that is pretty much out of the BCS title race is West Virginia, and that was no surprise. They are a pass it all over the place team that does not run the ball or play defense. That is not how championships are won.
West Virginia was able to win games up until this past Saturday with quarterback Geno Smith turning in Superman type performances. But the question has been if he were to have an ordinary game, could other units on the team pick up the slack?
That question was answered this past Saturday against Texas Tech, and the answer was no!
Smith completed 29 of 55 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions, which are decent numbers, but a far cry from what he was doing when he led his team to a 5-0 start to the season.
The drop in production from Smith meant less points scored, but that did not mean that their defense would give up less, as Texas Tech blew out West Virginia 49-14.
Even with the loss, Smith is still the front runner for the Heisman Trophy. He has 25 touchdowns with no interceptions while completing 75.3 percent of his passes. Those are still video game type numbers.
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