SEATTLE — USC and Washington, customarily found in the upper echelon of Pacific 10 football teams, will be striving to retain that status at Husky Stadium today.
It's virtually an early elimination game in the Rose Bowl race since the Trojans and Huskies each have 2-1 conference records.
Only three teams have won the conference championship with as many as two losses in the last 30 years, so a sense of urgency prevails.
USC (3-2 overall) and Washington (4-2) have had similar seasons so far. Neither has been consistent and they share the common misery of having lost to upstart Oregon.
Washington, however, would appear to be getting its act together, as indicated by an impressive 27-14 win over Arizona State last Saturday. The Huskies were so dominant defensively that the Sun Devils scraped out only 10 yards of total offense in the first half and ended the game with only 14 yards rushing.
The Huskies will have the advantage today of playing before an anticipated crowd of 74,000 at a stadium where the Trojans haven't won since 1979, while losing five of the last six games here.
The game also will showcase two of the league's best quarterbacks, Washington's Chris Chandler and USC's Rodney Peete.
Their careers are similar in that they both started for the first time here in 1985. It seemed that Peete would come out a winner as USC led, 17-13, late in the fourth quarter and was on the verge of putting the game out of reach with a first down at the Washington one-yard line.
Then, Peete and tailback Ryan Knight couldn't make contact on a handoff, resulting in a lost fumble. Chandler seized on that reprieve, driving his team 98 yards to a touchdown in a remarkable comeback in the closing minutes.
The Trojans got even last year at the Coliseum. They won, 20-10, knocking the previously unbeaten Huskies out of the top 10.
Until the Arizona State game, this season had been a frustrating one for Chandler, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.
His pass protection had frequently broken down and he had suffered a painful chest injury. The Husky offense was sporadic, to say the least, even though the defense was decent.
Washington Coach Don James went to the root of the problem last week. He shuffled his offensive line, promoting freshman Jeff Pahukoa to starting left guard, moving all-league right guard Mike Zandofsky to right tackle, and shifting Brett Wiese from left to right guard. The Huskies then pounded the Sun Devils on the ground, totaling 225 yards.
"By changing our personnel, we got the five best linemen on the field," Chandler said. "That helped our running game and pass protection. We've got tougher and quicker guys up front now who like to hit."
Although Chandler is a proven quarterback, his statistics for the season are only mediocre. He has completed 48.3% of his passes for 1,200 yards and 6 touchdowns while throwing 6 interceptions and ranks only sixth in the conference.
Peete has better numbers. He has completed 63% of his passes for 1,240 yards with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency.
Chandler, however, says that a quarterback is only as good as his offensive line.
"It's difficult to get any continuity on offense if you have people in your face," he said. "It doesn't matter who is playing quarterback.
"The offensive linemen are the five most important guys on the team. When they play well, we tend to win. When they don't, it makes it tougher."
Chandler is, of course, aware of the significance of today's game. He also commiserates with USC in regard to the Oregon setback.
"I know exactly how the Trojans feel," the senior quarterback said. "In our case, anyway, we knew what our game plan was, what we wanted to do, but I don't think the emotion was there.
"We didn't have the intensity level that we had against Arizona State. It's just more difficult to get up for Oregon than it is for Arizona State, USC, or UCLA. It's just not the same caliber of players. I think both of us (USC and Washington) let up a little bit."
By that reckoning there should be no let-up today by either team.