2011 Trojans Continue to Compete

A win in Oregon would mean it all for the Trojans. But nonetheless, this 2011 team has proved it can compete with just about anyone, and win in just about any way.

Cloudy weather, an unenthusiastic and poorly attended crowd and an unconvincing offense Saturday could have very well resulted in a USC loss to Washington.

Except it didn't.

It mattered not that Matt Barkley threw just one touchdown, five less than the previous week in Colorado.

More irrelevance came in the form of veteran defensive tackle Da'John Harris, who sat on the bench, despite being a disrupter and playmaker in the Trojans' previous nine games.

T'was a moot point that Robert Woods had two catches for five yards.

To roast a Washington team that was ranked a couple of weeks ago, USC didn't need playmakers, it just needed plays.

Fans piled out in the third quarter, as Woods sat on the bench and talked with teammates. Or watched the score board. Or did practically everything but focus on the game.

On Sunday, Lane Kiffin said Woods is about 70 percent healthy.

If we were in the first half of the season, such news would be akin to a red alert warning of the Ducks potential terror. Now, after USC rolled over its most recent opponent by fake punts, kickoff returns, a solid run game and letting the Huskies make mistakes, the Woods news has been reduced to an elevated risk, in which those concerned should merely take caution.

That's no discredit to Woods. He's still one of the best receivers in college football. No, that's merely credit to the wholeness of this USC team that can win in a variety of ways against an array of teams.

Even with walk-ons, like Kyle punter Negrete, whose fake punt-turned 35-yard run breathed life into the game.

Even with freshmen, like Marqise Lee, who knew the USC sanctions were coming yet enrolled at the university anyway.

"You want to go where you can compete," Lee said.

Even with veterans who have seen it all before, like junior defensive end Nick Perry, who said the competition and players have come a long way.

"We're a year better. That's what good teams do, they get better every year. And we're showing that."

They always seem to show that, though. After Saturday, USC has had an 8-win season for 10 consecutive years.

Sanctions, who? Sanctioned-what?

When USC was made the NCAA's guinea pig, its 2010 season was dissected for sanction-remnants. Spots appeared in their five losses.

When 2011 came, questions of "how much better can this team be" became the norm.

Now, it's no longer a question. Twelve months couldn't have brought a bigger divide between the two teams.

Such a difference is outlined when your youth-filled roster goes into triple-overtime with a top-10 team and nearly pulls out a win.

It's defined in a 40-17 statement win over a rival that beat USC the past two years.

And it will be solidified Saturday, if USC can prove its worthy of half the Ducks' hype and enter Autzen with a bowl-like mentality.

Because an 8-2 team facing the nation's fourth-ranked team in its second to last game of a successful season but one that can't go any further, this game's stakes are that high.

Except this time, the trophy isn't tangible.

It's prideful.

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