EUGENE, Ore. — In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, USC's football team, coached by Ralph Glaze, played three consecutive road games.
The Trojans of that era beat Redlands, then lost to Pomona and Oregon State.
No other USC team has had a similar schedule since. But now, 73 years later, the Trojans will be away from home for three straight weekends, starting with today's game against Oregon at Autzen Stadium.
USC, 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pacific 10, then will play Washington at Seattle and Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind. Coach Larry Smith calls it the meat of the schedule.
Call it what you will, this three-game test will most likely determine whether USC is a contender for the Pacific 10 championship and a high national ranking or just another team.
"No one believes me, including sportswriters, but I don't worry about the other two (games)," Smith said. "Right now it's Oregon, and I'm not looking ahead."
Oregon, usually a bottom-five team in the Pac-10, has understandably caught Smith's attention. The rejuvenated Ducks, 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference, are coming off a 29-22 upset of Washington at home.
When Oregon Coach Rich Brooks was asked if the win over the Huskies was his biggest in his 11 seasons as Oregon's coach, he replied, "No. Hopefully, the biggest is yet to come."
Obviously, Brooks has high hopes of producing the Ducks' best season since 1980, when they had a 6-3-2 record.
Smith was in his first season as Arizona's coach in 1980, and his Wildcats didn't play Oregon that year.
"However, since 1981, this is by far the best Oregon team I've seen," Smith said. "They're the most improved team in the Pac-10."
The Ducks are prospering behind a redshirt freshman quarterback, Bill Musgrave, who ranks second nationally in passing efficiency, and an opportunistic defense that yields yards, an average of 417.5 a game, but not many points, an average of 18.3.
Musgrave throws to small, quick receivers such as 5-foot 11-inch Terry Obee, 5-8 Rod Green and 5-11 J. J. Birden.
Brooks may have outcoached Washington's Don James by matching his small receivers on slower Husky linebackers last Saturday.
Obee teamed with Musgrave on an 83-yard touchdown pass play. He is averaging 22.7 yards a catch and is also a threat returning punts, averaging 18.1 yards.
Oregon has what Brooks calls a nuisance ground game, averaging only 99.8 yards a game.
Smith, on the other hand, has restored a balanced offense to USC, something that has been missing in recent years. The Trojans are averaging 466 yards in total offense, best in the Pacific 10, with 267.3 rushing and 198.8 through the air.
Those are impressive numbers, although they were bolstered by wins over California and Oregon State, lower-echelon teams. Even so, Brooks professed to be impressed with the Trojans. "It's the best two-dimensional offense we've seen all year," he said.
Even though tailback Steven Webster is averaging 120 yards a game rushing, quarterback Rodney Peete supplies most of the offense.
Peete has completed 66.7% of his passes for 961 yards and 5 touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception in the last three games.
Smith has also added an option phase to USC's offense, and Peete is taking advantage of it. He scored two touchdowns last Saturday night against Oregon State on option plays.
"At the start of the season, I expected (Washington's) Chris Chandler to be the premier quarterback in the league, but Peete is now," Brooks said. "He can hurt you in so many ways. He's a tremendous athlete. He can kill you as a dropback passer, running the option or scrambling."
What Peete does is keep plays alive when it appears that he's going to be tackled for a loss. He has been sacked only once in four games.
Nonetheless, Smith said the Trojans are only slightly above average now.
Asked to identify areas that need improvement, Smith said: "Overall, it would be the kicking game. It isn't as sound or as aggressive as I would like. On defense, we have to do better against the run and make more big plays. On offense, our overall blocking could be better."
Check in with Smith three weeks from now. That report on his team will be even more significant.
Trojan Notes Clear skies are forecast for today's game with temperatures in the low 70s. . . . An Oregon spokesman said USC Coach Larry Smith need not worry about a wet OmniTurf surface. The field will be watered in the morning, or about four hours before the game, he said. . . . Oregon tailback Derek Loville is suffering from a sore toe and a sprained ankle, but he is expected to play. . . . Fullback Latin Berry is the Pacific 10 triple jump champion, and wide receiver J. J. Birden won the long jump title last spring in the conference meet at Corvallis, Ore. . . . USC has a 5-0-1 record in its last six trips to Eugene.