The Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles once was adorned with a giant image of three L.A.-bred Oregon receivers, the $40,000 billboard paid for by a publicity-seeking Ducks football program looking to increase its Southern California recruiting presence.
Lane Kiffin, USC's receivers coach at the time, chafed at the image but, as inspiration, put it on the cover of the Trojans' playbook the week they played Oregon in 2002.
USC then went out and started quarterback Carson Palmer's march to the Heisman Trophy by torching the Ducks secondary. Afterward, receivers Mike Williams, Kareem Kelly and Keary Colbert posed in the Autzen Stadium end zone, positioned the same way as the Ducks on the billboard.
"We planned that all week," Colbert, now a USC graduate assistant coach, recalled Wednesday.
The billboard is long gone, but USC's receiving corps is duly inspired going into Saturday's game against top-ranked Oregon at the Coliseum.
For two weeks, all the Trojans have heard about is the Ducks' speed.
"We have speed also and we're going to utilize it and show this [Oregon] defense what they haven't been seeing this whole season," senior receiver Ronald Johnson said.
Johnson has a team-leading 39 receptions, seven for touchdowns. Freshman Robert Woods has 32 catches for a team-high 515 yards and six touchdowns, and senior David Ausberry has caught three touchdown passes.
Oregon (7-0) has given up 204.4 passing yards a game but only six touchdown passes.
"We're going to throw things at them that they've never had thrown at them before," Johnson said. "I think we're going to really test them."
Nick Perry absent
Defensive end Nick Perry was absent from practice, Kiffin declining to specify why other than to confirm that it was injury-related.
Perry, tied for the team lead with three sacks, has nursed a high ankle sprain since training camp. He practiced Tuesday but was hobbled midway through after participating in a drill.
Starting right tackle Tyron Smith did not practice, redshirt freshman Kevin Graf taking most of the reps in his spot.
Freshman tailback Dillon Baxter practiced for the first time since injuring his toes against Stanford on Oct. 9.
Baxter said he would play Saturday.
"I'm excited," he said of playing against a top-ranked team. "I've never been in anything like it before, so it should be fun."
Gamesmanship in high gear
Kiffin and Oregon Coach Chip Kelly have spent the week extolling their opponent's virtues.
Kiffin has beaten the drum about the pace of Oregon's offense, saying he has never seen anything like it. Kelly has repeatedly described the Trojans as the most talented team in the Pacific 10 Conference.
"In their two-deep, out of their 44 players they have 12 five-star recruits and 26 four-star recruits," Kelly told the Oregonian newspaper. "I don't know if there is anybody in the country who has that. ... We have zero five-star recruits in our top 44 and 11 four-star recruits."
Said Kiffin: "I really wish that I had good enough players, or we were good enough coaches, that we could spend enough time counting how many four- and five-star players we have on each other's rosters. I don't have time for that, unfortunately."
Quarterback Matt Barkley ignited controversy with a UFC-related weekend tweet that compared Brock Lesnar to Oregon and USC to new heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Trojans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey was more direct, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com: "They have a good running back and a good quarterback. Other than that, they're really not that good."