Saturday, October 18, 2008
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: A 'Wicked' weekend

No. 6 USC poised for resurgence

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[October 18, 2008]  COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) -- While the nation has been focusing on Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU and top-ranked Texas, Southern California has been as anonymous as any No. 6 team can be for the past month.

CivicThat's what happens after the then-No. 1 Trojans lose on national TV at Oregon State.

Considered to be likely out of the BCS title chase following that upset, USC (4-1, 2-1 Pac-10) has won its past two games by a combined 72-10 entering Saturday's matchup against Washington State (1-6, 0-4).

"We got hit in the mouth," tailback Stafon Johnson said of that 27-21 loss to the Beavers on Sept. 25. "We've got to get back up and fight."

USC's defense is back to being dominant, leading the nation by allowing 9.4 points per game. The inexperienced offensive line is meshing.

So the Trojans are primed to pounce back into the national championship hunt if the top teams continue to get upset.

Pete Carroll thinks it will happen. USC's coach had to have been smiling last weekend when No. 1 Oklahoma, third-ranked Missouri and No. 4 LSU all lost while his team blanked Arizona State at home 28-0.

"I'm not surprised a bit by it. I know it's really hard to win every game," said Carroll, whose team last did it in 2004 while winning its second consecutive national championship.

"From my perspective, everyone's going to get caught here - unless you have a really special season.

"The likelihood is you're going to have one or two losses at the end of the year. It's how you finish."

That finish should get a kick-start against the Cougars. New coach Paul Wulff is rebuilding Washington State's program.

Washington State ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and total defense.

Washington State has been outscored 316-111, putting the Cougars on pace to break the Pac-10 record for most points allowed in a season, 469 by Oregon State in 1981. They have lost 66-3 to California and 63-14 to Oregon at home and 66-13 at Oregon State.

Their only win came over Portland State of the Big Sky Conference and the Championship Subdivision.

On Saturday, the Cougars are starting Kevin Lopina at quarterback, who is returning from a broken bone in his back.

Lopina replaced former starter Gary Rogers. He is out for the season with a stable cervical spine fracture.

The quarterback who replaced both of them, Marshall Lobbestael, is out for the year after tearing knee ligaments last weekend at Oregon State. Peter Roberts, who won a recent campus-wide tryout to be the scout team quarterback, will be in uniform Saturday.

Plus, top running back Dwight Tardy, left tackle Vaughn Lesuma and tight end Devin Frischknecht are likely to be out with injuries.

Wulff said his players' morale is holding up "reasonably well."

"The more positive we as a team and coaches stay together, the more productive we can be," Wulff said. "The more negative stuff is out there, the harder it is for people to keep their morale up."

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This isn't positive: USC has won 60 of its past 66 games and is a 43-point favorite.

But the Trojans were 41-point favorites at home last season to Stanford and lost. They were a 25-point pick in Corvallis, Ore., last month when the Beavers beat them.

And the last time they went to Pullman, Wash., in 2006 while ranked No. 3, they had to knock down a desperation pass near the goal line on the final play to beat Washington State 28-22.

That's why Johnson said of the Cougars this week: "We take them like it's Texas. We've got to. If we don't, we're vulnerable."

So much for the Cougars' hopes of USC overlooking them.

Yet Carroll is still concerned over his offense's inconsistency and mistakes. It had five turnovers and 10 penalties last week. Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, though he's still the Pac-10's top-rated passer.

Still, the Trojans haven't allowed a point in six quarters and have a streak of 69 unanswered points.

"Just trying to clean up as we go," Carroll said.


AP Sports Writers John Nadel in Los Angeles and Associated Press Writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Wash., contributed to this report.

[Associated Press; By GREGG BELL]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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