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O/NSO: Washington State or Stanford? edition

The Obvious: While the No. 11 USC Trojans (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12 South) are completing a well-deserved “R&R” bye week in anticipation of next Friday night’s Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (5 p.m. PT/ESPN), only one piece of the proverbial puzzle remains – which North Division team – No. 14 Washington State or No. 20 Stanford – will warrant a rematch with the South Division Champion Men of Troy?

The Not So Obvious: That final puzzle piece to the Pac-12 CG unfolds early Saturday evening, and the Trojans and their legion of fans will get the chance to watch first-hand who’ll be their North Division adversary. So, grab your popcorn and favorite libation, locate the remote control, and make sure that hand-and-thumb are ready for a four-quarter workout. If Mike Leach’s underdog Washington State Cougars (6-2 Pac-12, 9-2 overall) upset Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies (6-2 Pac-12, 9-2 overall) in Husky Stadium (5 p.m. PT/FOX), it’ll be the Cougs. If Washington State is defeated in Seattle, David Shaw’s Stanford Cardinal (7-2 Pac-12, 8-3 overall) automatically lock up the North Division. And to top it off, at the same time Washington State and Washington are having at it for the traditional Apple Cup, Stanford hosts No. 9 Notre Dame in Stanford Stadium (5 p.m. PT/ABC).

The Obvious: Washington opened a 9 ½ – point favorite over Washington State while Notre Dame opened a 1 ½ – point favorite to defeat Stanford.

The No So Obvious: The O/NSO believes the best-case scenario for the Trojans would be a rematch with Washington State. The fact the Trojans lost a tough one, 30-27, in Pullman on Sept. 29, brings out the revenge factor and the talent discrepancy, which favors the Cardinal and Gold. Honestly, the Cougars played a great game against USC, but also caught the Trojans on a Friday night with less R&R time and a squad crippled with injuries, especially along the offensive line.

However, should the Trojans face Stanford, a team they dominated 42-24 on Sept. 9 in the Coliseum (photo above), the shoe would be on the other foot in terms of the revenge factor. In addition, the Stanford team of today has improved immensely, and one of the main factors is redshirt freshman quarterback K.J. Costello, who is now at the helm and a big improvement over junior Keller Chryst. Of course, another major factor to be determined will be the health of superstar junior tailback Bryce Love, who has been hobbled with a sprained ankle. Love is expected to play against a physical Notre Dame defense on Saturday, but who knows what physical shape Bryce will be in after a bout with the Irish meat grinder defense.

The Obvious: Much of the enjoyment of watching a televised game is a viewers’ acceptance of the broadcaster team describing and analyzing the action.

The Not So Obvious: Calling the Washington State/Washington game on FOX will be Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brady Quinn (analyst), and Bruce Feldman (sidelines). As for the Notre Dame/Stanford game on ABC, Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), and Maria Taylor (sideline reporter) will do the honors.

The Obvious: Back on Oct. 21, the Trojans were humiliated 49-14 by Notre Dame in South Bend.

The Not So Obvious: You have to admit, there is a real sense of curiosity regarding the Irish and Stanford. Knowing the Trojans got smoked by ND, just what will Stanford be able to do against the South Benders, especially if Stanford tailback Bryce Love is either limited (ankle) or is held out all together in preparation for a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance? Although the outcome of the game will have nothing to do with the final Pac-12 North standings, it could affect the Trojans standings in the CFP rankings.

The Obvious: UCLA fired head coach Jim Mora earlier this week after his third consecutive loss to the Trojans, a program sliding into an abyss and home attendance down 25 percent.

The Not So Obvious: From a USC prospective, it’s always a good news/bad news scenario when UCLA goes looking for a new football coach. Mora’s firing was validation that the Trojans have been dominating the Bruins both in final scores, recruiting, and home attendance. However, a new UCLA head coach breathes new life and hope into the Westwood program, and USC fans will hold their oxygen to see whom Bruins’ athletic director Dan Guerrero selects. It figures that most Trojans fans won’t be thrilled to see former Oregon coaching legend Chip Kelly, who reportedly interviewed for the UCLA job on Tuesday. If Kelly does accept the Bruins’ job, as all signs are pointing, it will show the UCLA is deadly serious about gaining ground both against the Trojans and the conference in general. Kelly is a proven college commodity. UCLA athletic director Guerrero is on his own hot seat for past failures in selecting a successful UCLA football coach, so he, too, is at a blue and gold crossroads.

The Obvious: Given all that’s going on, the Trojans also received a big verbal this week from defensive tackle Trevor Trout, a 6-foot-3, 315-pounder, from Chaminade HS in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are really stockpiling defense line help, and you have to give credit to DL coach Kenechi Udeze, who has more than validated his hiring from a recruiting standpoint. Given the fact that Udeze had little coaching and recruiting experience before stepping into some big shoes, not only does he continue to bring in high-profile recruits but has also coached them up, or are you not aware that the Trojans have led the nation’s in sacks during various times of the season.

The Obvious: Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin has been announced as a semi-finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach.

The Not So Obvious: Congrats to Tee. This award could get interesting for Martin should he win it. Martin’s name has been mentioned for past head coaching openings, and it would seem that it’s just a matter of time before he moves on to run his own program. The curious thing about this season is when it comes to calling plays, there seems to be an intriguing mystery as to who calls what plays – running or passing – and at what location on the field? Quarterback coach Tyson Helton, brother of the head coach Clay, has input as does the head coach. What’s the old saying that “if you have two quarterbacks…” Martin has been the focal point at times regarding questionable play-calling, but it has not been confirmed that he is solely responsible for the calls.

The Obvious: Trojans senior linebacker Ucheena Nwosu has accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious 2018 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

The Not So Obvious: Congrats to Uchenna. An invitation to the Senior Bowl is a big first step to getting to the NFL. It says here that if the O/NSO had a vote, Uchenna would be the Trojans Defensive MVP. A close second would be junior safety Marvell Tell lll and junior linebacker Cameron Smith.

The Obvious: Junior tailback Ronald Jones ll is just yards away from passing former Trojans Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson for career rushing yardage.  

The Not So Obvious: It figures that RoJo will pass Simpson at some point during next Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game. One wonders how Jones could do in a true I-formation with a lead fullback? However, one doesn’t have to wonder about Simpson, who did run with a lead fullback (remember fireplug Danny Scott?) in an I-formation under the legendary John McKay. But keep in mind that RoJo has been playing for three seasons and Simpson was a two-year junior college transfer.

The Obvious: Many Trojans fans have complained during the season about the various 2017 kickoff times, which are determined by television.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are not the only ones complaining. Recently, Washington head coach Chris Petersen said, “We want to play at 1:00 (PT). It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it. It is painful for our team. It’s painful for our administration. And we know certainly the most important part is (it’s painful) for our fans.”

The Obvious: ESPN has a big say on Pac-12 kickoff times, especially those despised 7:45 p.m. PT “Pac-12 After Dark” starts.

The Not So Obvious: According to ESPN’s own publicity machine, games starting at or after 9 ET average 38% more viewers than an earlier kick time. Convinced?

The Obvious: And finally, here’s hoping you and yours had a wonderful and peaceful Thanksgiving.

The Not So Obvious: And despite the passion and devotion and sometimes frustration, we should remind ourselves to be thankful for being witness as fans, media, and/or alumni to one of college football’s most storied programs, the University of Southern California Trojans.   

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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