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November 6, 2008
USC rarely loses. In November, the Trojans never do.
At least, they haven't under Pete Carroll. Since Carroll took over the reins in 2001, USC is 24-0 in November.
But even if USC stays perfect in this month, it will not ensure a Pac-10 championship. Only two teams control their own destiny in the Pac-10 race ? and USC is not one of them. California is.
That doesn't provide any comfort to Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who takes his Bears into the Los Angeles Coliseum to face USC this week. California has endured five November losses to Carroll's Trojans, and this season's trip could complete the six-pack.
"I think (controlling destiny) is kind of nice, but there's still a lot of football left," Tedford said. "Our No. 1 focus is USC, and we know what a challenge that is.
"We don't get into controlling our own destiny. It's one at a time. It's USC and that's a difficult task."
Difficult, but it's not impossible.
Oregon State, the other team is control of its destiny in the Pac-10, defeated USC earlier this season by controlling the line of scrimmage. Freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 186 yards to key the upset.
Despite injuries, California has a solid offensive line anchored by All-America center Alex Mack. If the Bears can neutralize USC's defensive front, they have a chance at the upset.
But that's not easy. The Trojans allow fewer than 85 rushing yards per game and have posted 19 sacks. Furthermore, USC has allowed only 57 points this season ? the fewest in the nation; it also has held seven of eight opponents to 10 points or less and has posted shutouts in three of its past four games.
"As a defensive unit, we have great expectations of ourselves," USC defensive end Clay Matthews said. "We're aiming for a shutout in every game. That's hard to do, but we're just trying to hold them the best we can and find out the most effective way to shut them down."
Tedford is duly impressed.
"There are no chinks in their armor," he said. "They're well-coached, they have a nice plan and players who can play one-on-one and defeat their opponent a lot of times. There difficult to plan for."
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, Tedford said the Bears have to be aggressive.
"I don't think there is any doubt you take your shots at them and have your guys come up with some plays," he said. "But you also have to be able to sustain ? or try to sustain ? drives by running the football to keep your defense off the field because they're good offensively.
"But that's easier said that done. Typically against USC, it's a game of field position. If you can win that, you have a little better chance to be successful."
And teams need every chance they can get against USC, especially in November.
California at USC. Turnovers often determine the outcome of big games. That could be the case when USC faces California, which leads the nation in interceptions with 17. S Sean Cattouse and CB Syd'Quan Thompson lead the Bears with three apiece. Cal's penchant for picks could pose a problem for USC QB Mark Sanchez. He's only thrown seven interceptions this season, but had three against Arizona State last month.
Oregon State TB Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers needs 55 yards against UCLA to join Oregon State's Ken Simonton (1998) and Stanford's Darrin Nelson (1977) as the only freshmen in Pac-10 history to rush for 1,000 yards. Rodgers has exceeded 100 yards rushing in each of the past six games. UCLA is 98th in the nation in rush defense.
Arizona State's defense has forced nine turnovers in the past three games. ? California sophomore LB Mike Mohamed posted nine tackles, a sack and returned an interception for a touchdown two weeks ago against UCLA. Last week, he earned his first career start and responded with a game-high 14 tackles. ? The USC defense just won't budge. The Trojans have given up just 334 rushing yards in the past four games; that's an average of 83.5 yards per game. In the past four games, USC has forced 11 turnovers while allowing just 10 points. ? Arizona has been penalized just once in the past two games.
Stanford will be trying to end a six-game losing streak to Oregon this week. ? Arizona State's offensive line allowed five sacks and was penalized five times for false starts in last week's loss to Oregon State. The Sun Devils have allowed 23 sacks this season. ? Oregon State coach Mike Riley has had success against every team in the Pac-10 except UCLA, this week's opponent. Riley is 0-5 as Oregon State's coach against the Bruins.
"I don't have to tell them. They know how to add."
"I went to every UCLA game when I was getting recruited my junior and senior year, and I wanted to go there. Their offensive line coach said they wanted me. I had a meeting with (former UCLA coach Karl) Dorrell, and he said I was too short. So that's extra motivation. I hate the Bruins."
"I think it stinks. I don't think it's the way it should be. But all we can do is keep talking about it."
California is tied for the national lead in interceptions with 17. That's seven more than the Bears managed last season. Six of Cal's interceptions have come in the past two games. ... Oregon WR Jaison Williams has 166 career receptions and needs 12 to equal the school record set by Samie Parker. ? Arizona State junior TB Shaun DeWitty got his first career start and rushed for 110 yards last week against Oregon State. ? With 89 rushing yards against Oregon this week, RB Toby Gerhart would become the first Stanford player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 1991. ? USC WR Patrick Turner has seven touchdown catches to lead the Pac-10. ? Washington State WR Brandon Gibson needs 72 yards to set a school record for receiving yards. The record is 2,704 yards set by Jason Hill (2003-2006). Gibson has caught at least one pass in 32 consecutive games. ? Arizona OT Adam Grant may return this week after missing the past month with a broken little finger. ? Oregon State QB Lyle Moevao sat out most of last week's game against Arizona State with a shoulder injury. His status for this week's game is uncertain. ? In 56 conference games, the home team has won 40 times.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.