After surviving a scare last week, top-ranked Southern California will try to wrap up its third straight Pac-10 title when it hosts Arizona on Saturday.
The Trojans (9-0, 6-0) can claim three consecutive conference championships for the first time since the late 1980s with a victory. Southern California holds a one-game lead over California, which visits Washington on Saturday.
Southern Cal, which has won 18 straight games and is No. 1 in the BCS standings, overcame a 13-point deficit to win 28-20 at Oregon State on Saturday. With the defending national champions clinging to a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, Reggie Bush broke open the game with an amazing 65-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“That guy is incredible,” Oregon State wide receiver Mike Hass said. “You’ve got to give him credit on that, he kind of made it happen all by himself.
“That’s why he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate and he showed that tonight.”
Matt Leinart threw two touchdown passes to Dominique Byrd, and LenDale White ran 5 yards for another score.
“We’ve been in this position before,” Bush said. “There was no doubt in our minds we were going to come back in the second half.”
Southern Cal has won 13 in a row in the Pac-10 and is off to its best start since the 1988 squad went 10-0. The Trojans will be trying for their 20th consecutive home victory, matching the school record set twice in the 1920s.
The Trojans don’t leave Los Angeles again during the regular season. They also host Notre Dame on Nov. 27 before their rivalry game at UCLA.
The final stretch is a welcome relief for Southern Cal, which faced pregame hail and temperatures hovering in the 30s for its 42-12 win at Washington State, then thick fog in Saturday’s victory.
“This puts us in the fourth quarter of our season with three games left and we get to finish our work in L.A.,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Arizona, which is playing at Southern California for the first time in four years, is the last team to beat a No. 1-ranked Trojans squad, pulling off a three-point upset in Los Angeles in 1981.
However, this season’s Wildcats are nothing like that team. Arizona (2-7, 1-5) snapped a seven-game losing streak on Saturday with a 23-13 victory over Washington.
Cornerback Wilrey Fontenot returned a fumble 33 yards for the go-ahead touchdown as Arizona gave first-year coach Mike Stoops his first Pac-10 victory.
“It was just one win, but we are obviously excited and happy we were able to go on the road and be able to overcome some bad things,” Stoops said.
Arizona beat the Huskies despite an inept offense and having two special team returns for touchdowns called back because of holding penalties.
Stoops said that wouldn’t do Saturday in Los Angeles.
“We have to play close to flawless football and get some breaks. We understand that,” he said. “But it is nothing we are going to be intimidated by. I have been at Oklahoma and played a lot of teams that didn’t match up well but played well. That is all you can do.”
USC holds a 21-6 lead in the all-time series after a 46-0 rout last year in Arizona.