College Football: USC at Oregon State Preview

September 25th, 2008

Two games on the schedule tonight, with both games being conference matchups at that. USC gets the national stage again, this time visiting a place that gave them a stunning loss just two seasons ago. And the June Jones Show visits the Louisiana Superdome, but while the offense has shown some spark the defense has been up to its usual standard: inept play. Here's a preview of both games, along with my picks.

SMU @ Tulane 8PM EST on CBS College Sports

The Green Wave own close defeats to both Alabama and East Carolina, so close that you could make a case for Bob Toledo's team being 3-0 at this point in the year. But the fact is they didn't get the job done in either, with the kicking game being their downfall in Tuscaloosa and a last-minute drive sealing their fate against the Pirates. Given the fact that they rank near the bottom of Conference USA in most offensive categories, how have the Green Wave been able to stay in games so far? A defense that currently leads the league in all major categories.

Defensive lineman Logan Kelley leads C-USA in both sacks (4.0) and forced fumbles (2), and he's also near the top of the league in tackles for loss (4.0). He and the rest of the defense will have their hands full with the "run and shoot", but they've been up to the task in their first three games.

"The run-and-shoot wants to throw the ball," said Coach Toledo in his weekly press conference. "They average 12 runs a game. That's three a quarter. The point is they want to throw the football and they're going to throw the football. And we've got to be prepared with substitutes because they wear you out; they get you tired."

As for the Mustangs, it's been anything but smooth sailing in Coach Jones' first season in Dallas, with the offense not hitting on all cylinders (11th in Conference USA in total offense) and a defense that has been porous to say the least (last in total defense, giving up 530.5 yards per game). Freshman QB Bo Levi Mitchell has been given every opportunity to sling the ball around the field, but with youth comes growing pains (9 TD, 10 INT in four games).

Two statistics to watch in this one are time of possession (Tulane (35:28) leads the conference while SMU (26:12) ranks last) and turnover margin (Tulane is 2nd in C-USA, SMU 12th). All the numbers point towards a Tulane win, and that's who I'm going with.

#1 USC @ Oregon State 9PM EST on ESPN

The Trojans own an overwhelming advantage in the all-time series, boasting a record of 58-9-4 against the Beavers. But two of the last three games in Corvallis have ended in victory for the home team, with the 33-31 triumph two years ago being the most recent. That game (along with a later loss to UCLA) helped keep the Trojans out of the national title game, so you know that Pete Carroll will have his team ready to go tonight.

Mark Sanchez has been the best quarterback in the Pac-10 so far, with his name being thrown into the Heisman talk as a result. But the key to a USC win tonight could be the performance of "The Stable": six talented running backs who take joy in punishing opposing defenses with speed and power. It's not good news for Oregon State that they currently rank 8th in the conference in rushing defense (168.7 yards allowed/game) while USC is 3rd in rushing offense (191 yards/game).

Oregon State's Lyle Moevao leads the league in passing yards per game (307.3 yards/game), but he'll need help from a running game that ranks 6th in the league (131.7 yards/game) to keep from becoming one-dimensional. That will be the responsibility of the offensive line and running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who has four rushing touchdowns on the year. And in Sammie Stroughter, James Rodgers and Shane Morales, Mike Riley's Beavers have a trio of wide receivers who can give the USC secondary some trouble.

It'll be a wild atmosphere in Corvallis, and not having LB Brian Cushing at full strength (he may play but a strained hamstring makes him a gametime decision) will be a hit. But most likely USC will find another contributor (most likely Clay Matthews Jr.) to plug in if he's ineffective and that man will carry his weight. I like the Trojans to win this one and remain atop the polls.