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Oregon in Pac-10's marquee matchup

EUGENE — Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better: Halloween night, the din of Autzen Stadium, crisp fall temperatures and No. 10 Oregon versus No. 4 USC in arguably the Pac-10's biggest game of the season.

"It's going to be crazy," Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. "It's going to be one of those Autzen nights times 100."

Oregon (6-1, 4-0) sits alone atop the conference standings with no league losses, threatening the hold the Trojans (6-1, 3-1) have had on the Pac-10 title for the past seven years.

The Ducks have won six straight games since an embarrassing 19-8 loss at Boise State in the opener, a game that got uglier when running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos defensive end as he was leaving the field.

Blount was suspended for the season and Oregon moved on without him. Perhaps their biggest win thus far was a 42-3 victory over then-No. 6 California back on Sept. 26 — at, where else? Autzen.

Afterward, Cal offensive lineman Mike Tepper said the noise made a difference. At Oregon, fans infamously add to the decibels with incessant duck calls. Then there's the fact that the stands butt up close to the playing field.

Two years ago, USC visited Autzen and left with a 24-17 loss. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, making his third start, was rattled and threw a pair of critical interceptions.

Current USC quarterback Matt Barkley brushed the acoustics aside this week, exclaiming: "I feed off that energy, I feed off that noise. I love it."

Indeed, Southern California's freshman starter has held his own on the road against opponents like Notre Dame and Ohio State, known for enthusiastic fans. He currently leads the Pac-10 in both pass efficiency and passing yards per game, with an average of 256.7. He's thrown for seven touchdowns.

"You gotta think of him as a veteran, like he's the best quarterback in the world," Oregon cornerback Talmadge Jackson said. "You can't think about him as a freshman."

Barkley and the Trojans will have to deal with much more than noise. They'll be facing a Ducks team that has steadily improved on both sides of the ball since that season-opening loss on Boise State's blue turf.

Masoli has recently answered critics who claimed he was too one-dimensional and too dependent on his rushing ability. He's passed for 905 yards and five touchdowns, with just two interceptions. Still known more for his scrambling, however, he's rushed for 272 yards and seven TDS.

Freshman running back LaMichael James, who replaced Blount, is averaging 105 yards a game.

Oregon is ranked atop the Pac-10 in pass defense and has allowed only five touchdown passes. The unit has allowed just three touchdowns to its Pac-10 opponents this season — all after the Ducks have had leads well in hand. The D also has twice as many sacks (22-11) as their opponents, along with 11 interceptions.

In contrast, USC's defense has struggled of late. The Trojans allowed Oregon State 329 passing yards last week in the Trojan's 43-36 victory. Notre Dame had 285 yards the week before.

But USC still held those opponents at bay. The Trojans' only loss was the 16-13 upset by conference foe Washington on Sept. 19.

"We know how to finish when it matters," said linebacker Chris Galippo. "We'd rather win a million games by giving up 36 points than giving up three and lose. The wins and losses are what matter, because so many things can change in football. You have to be focused on the final result."

Last season the Trojans routed Oregon 44-10 at Memorial Coliseum. At the time, USC was coming off a stunning loss at Oregon State that knocked the team off the top of the AP Poll.

Oregon would like its shot at besting the Trojans this year. Ducks fans would, too. They are snapping up "Fright Night" T-shirts, featuring a duck and crossbones. A Web site advertised two tickets on the 50-yard line for $1,000.

"'SC has won the Pac-10, I think, the last seven years," said Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews. "To beat them this week would definitely be huge."