Not So Traditional

By Adam Caparell - November 21, 2007

It's not your traditional Thanksgiving Day matchup, but getting to watch USC and Arizona State Thursday night is certainly an upgrade over the Egg Bowl, especially considering this one has BCS implications written all over it.

At stake in Tempe is a shot for both teams to move one step closer to winning the Pac-10 after Oregon suffered its second loss of the season a week ago to Arizona and lost quarterback Dennis Dixon for the season with a torn ACL.

With many already writing off the Ducks - who beat both USC and Arizona State the past three weeks - without their trigger man on offense, focus has shifted toward the Trojans and Sun Devils as the two teams will fight it out for the league's championship and subsequent Rose Bowl berth - and maybe even more.

While some thought Arizona State could be a contender for its first Rose Bowl appearance in a decade in late November, few thought the Trojans would be sacked with two losses and looking up at both the Ducks and Sun Devils in the conference standings.

"No matter what has happened before, this is the same situation we would have hoped to have been in where we could have a chance to have been a conference champ," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "It's a long ways to home, and there's a lot of games to be played around the conference and a lot of really competitive matchups coming up here. You're going to have to earn your way here."

Right now, Arizona State sits atop the conference with a 6-1 league record. Under first year coach Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils are priming themselves for a run at their first trip to Pasadena on New Year's Day since their 1997 matchup with Ohio State.

"They're 9-1 and they've had a very good start," Carroll said. "It's a cool demonstration of what Dennis Erickson was able to do. He came into this program started from scratch and came out of the chutes and won seven or eight straight games."

It was eight games to be exact, all against underwhelming competition, but the fast start has Arizona State in the BCS at-large picture, and potentially the BCS title game picture as well if they can win their final two games (they close out against Arizona) and get some big help along the way.

"If somebody asked me if I would have taken where we're at, at the beginning of the season, I would say yes fast before they change their mind," Erickson said.

As for the Thanksgiving game date, it's probably safe to say Carroll isn't the biggest fan. But he knows his team is going to have the attention of every college football fan. And plenty of poll voters as well as the Trojans try to rack up some style points in hopes of boosting their BCS at-large resume.

"Well, the way it's turned out, it is a great focal point and opportunity for us," Carroll said. "There's a lot of people going to be laying on their couch. I don't know if we can play well enough to keep them awake, but we'll do the best we can and make it a great day."

Erickson, who's played a number of times on Thanksgiving during his time in football, likes playing on the holiday.

"To me, playing on Thanksgiving, the only college game, is pretty special," Erickson said. "There's going to be a lot of people watching, so it will be exciting."

And of course, with both teams playing earlier in the week, it will allow for some advance scouting Saturday. For Carroll and the Trojans they get to see UCLA take on Oregon and deep down would love nothing more than to have their rivals put the Ducks down for the count. But Carroll's not going as far to say he'll be openly rooting for the Bruins. At least not publicly.

"I'm not that far ahead yet, but I'll tell you I might find it hard to do that, I'll tell you that," Carroll laughed.

Posted by Adam Caparell at 03:22 PM on November 21, 2007

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