USC has owned the Pac-10 in recent years, but it may be vulnerable
by: , Piscitelli

As Oregon State's football team pulled into the vicinity of Reser Stadium early Sunday morning, hours after a 17-10 victory at Arizona, several of the players noticed the lights were on at the field.

'Hey,' one said, 'let's just start practicing for SC right now.'

At the front of the bus, Mike Riley couldn't suppress a grin.

'That was neat to hear,' says the Oregon State coach, whose Beavers (4-3 overall, 2-2 in Pac-10) play host to third-ranked Southern Cal (6-0, 4-0) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. 'It was great to see the guys feel the same way I do.'

Since Pete Carroll took over as coach in 2001 and restored USC to its national prominence (four straight top-four finishes, including national championships in '03 and '04), the Trojans have had their way in the Pac-10. They have won four straight conference titles, are 34-2 against conference foes since 2002 and ride a 27-game conference win streak into Corvallis.

But these Trojans, minus Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, seem a little less daunting. In succession, their victories over Arizona (20-3), Washington State (28-22), Washington (26-20) and Arizona State (28-21) have given hope that the dynasty is crumbling ever so slightly.

You won't hear anybody associated with the Oregon State program bite on that, of course.

'We just know they have great athletes and a great coaching staff,' safety Sabby Piscitelli says. 'We're going to go out and try to play the best we can.'

'They just win,' Riley says. 'They find ways to win. The pressure for them to keep winning is big, and they've handled that tremendously well. You see teams around the country dropping off every week, and they've been able to maintain.'

USC's offense is led by quarterback John David Booty, a 6-3, 210-pound junior who is second in the Pac-10 in passing (131 of 207 for 1,357 yards and 13 TDs with four interceptions) in his first year as a starter. Emmanuel Moody, a 6-1, 195-pound true freshman, and Chauncey Washington, a 6-1, 220-pound junior, divide the tailback duties. Dwayne Jarrett, a 6-5, 215-pound junior, and Steve Smith, a 6-0, 200-pound senior, are among the league's best receivers. The defense is led by middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, a 6-3, 250-pound sophomore who is a cousin of Junior Seau. Seau played for Riley with the San Diego Chargers, and Oregon State tried to recruit Maualuga.

'They are a physical team on both sides of the ball,' Riley says. 'They run the ball well, and Moody seems very talented. You can't lose Leinart and Bush and not miss them, but the talent is still awesome.'

Oregon State is 8-57-4 against Southern Cal. The last two times the Trojans visited Corvallis, Oregon State won 31-21 in 2000 and lost 28-20 in the 'Fog Bowl' of 2004. This time, the Trojans have the advantage of a bye week to prepare for the Beavers, who hope they are up for the challenge.

'We're going to work to do what we can to win this game,' Riley says. 'That's our expectation. Our team is building confidence and excited about where we've come from to where we are now.'

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