No. 1 Southern California looks to be super strong, the Pac-10 appears pretty weak, so the Trojans should have an easy time of it Thursday night in their conference opener at Oregon State.
LOS ANGELES — No. 1 Southern California looks to be super strong, the Pac-10 appears pretty weak, so the Trojans should have an easy time of it Thursday night in their conference opener at Oregon State.
Or should they?
"We look at this game knowing that it's Pac-10 time," USC coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday at his weekly meeting with reporters. "Pac-10 games have always been challenging and difficult. It doesn't matter which week or who you're playing or where you're playing, they're just hard, difficult challenges.
"We've had difficult times with Oregon State in years past, in particularly playing there. We have great respect for their program. We'd love to play a nice football game and get out of there with a win and get on back home."
The Trojans (2-0), who have beaten Virginia 52-7 and No. 14 Ohio State 35-3, are favored by 25 points and have a 58-9-4 record in the series. But the Beavers have won two of the last three games between the teams at Reser Stadium including a 33-31 victory in 2006 that snapped USC's 38-game, regular-season winning streak.
"I remember it being cold, loud," USC defensive lineman Kyle Moore said. "It's different, you have the sports turf. The fans are very enthusiastic.
"We just can't let teams that are not supposed to beat us beat us this year."
Oregon State also beat USC 31-21 as the home team in 2000 — the year before Carroll became the Trojans coach — and led 13-0 before losing 28-20 on a cold, foggy night in 2004.
Carroll downplayed the difficulty of playing at Oregon State, although he added: "I don't think anybody could ever anticipate what it's like to play in fog like we played a few years ago."
That kind of weather is unlikely at this time of year, although Oregon State coach Mike Riley, when asked on a conference call about fog machines, said playfully: "They should be arriving tomorrow."
Carroll pointed to four USC turnovers in the game two years ago as the determining factor.
"That didn't have anything to do with the stadium, didn't have anything to do with anything," he said. "The ball came out of our hands a couple times. You do that no matter where you play in the game of football, you jeopardize your changes to win. They played an extremely efficient football game against us that day, and they got a great win."
Maybe what happened didn't have anything to do with the stadium, but that doesn't mean the players haven't been reminded about the past.
"The coaches make sure and let us know. We try to let the younger players know," Moore said.
"We've talked about what has gone on," guard Jeff Byers said. "(But) it's a football field; it doesn't change. You can't worry about a loud crowd, crazy fans. We love to play in front of people like that."
Pac-10 schools are winless in five games against Mountain West Conference schools and are 12-12 in nonconference games, but Carroll said: "I don't think that the conference is down at this point. I think there was a weekend where a lot of teams got beat. We'll see what happens as the season goes on."
Oregon State (0-2, 1-2 Pac-10) lost at Stanford 36-28 and No. 12 Penn State 45-14 before beating Hawaii 45-7 on Sept. 13 in its home opener.
"This is a team that can make it really hard on you," Carroll said. "They had a rough game against Penn State and all that, but this looks like the same kind of team we always prepare for, so we hold them in very high regard. They're really well-schemed. This is one of my favorite defenses in the conference year in and year out, the style they play, the manner in which they play their secondary. They're always very aggressive, their run numbers are always down.
"I think every game is difficult. We get everybody's best shot. It's normal for Oregon State and all of the teams in our conference to play USC. It's not normal for Virginia or for Ohio State to do that."
The Trojans will be without cornerback Shareece Wright, who will probably miss several games due to a fractured vertebra. He was injured in the Ohio State game and hasn't practiced since that time, although the hairline fracture wasn't diagnosed until Monday.
Carroll had said Wright was being disciplined after being charged with felony resisting a police officer earlier this month, but would have played against Oregon State had he been cleared medically.
Wright will be replaced by Josh Pinkard, a fifth-year senior who missed most of the 2006 season and all of last year because of knee injuries.
"I'm really excited for Josh to get this opportunity to start," Carroll said. "He's an unusual athlete in that he's so big for a corner and he's really fast and he's really talented athletically. He's a good hitter, he's smart, he gets it. I'm anxious to see him in the role where he's actually starting, he's coming back with it. It's two years of sitting and waiting."