USC quarterback Matt Barkley eludes the tackle of three Oregon defenders… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Eager to put behind an embarrassing defensive performance against Oregon, Lane Kiffin could hardly wait for USC's next game against Arizona State.
"Saturday," the Trojans coach said this week, "can't come fast enough."
And that was before a controversy over deflated footballs put Kiffin and USC in the middle of another firestorm.
So here are the Trojans, with a 6-3 record overall, 4-3 in the Pac-12 Conference and the program reeling from a reprimand, a $25,000 fine and national criticism because a since-fired student manager intentionally deflated footballs that were used by USC during a 62-51 loss to Oregon last week at the Coliseum.
Not exactly the ideal scenario for alums anticipating a celebratory homecoming weekend.
And it could get worse: A defeat by Arizona State would give USC its first three-game losing streak since 2001.
But No. 21 USC can still earn a rematch with second-ranked Oregon — or perhaps play Oregon State or Stanford — in the Pac-12 championship game. A Rose Bowl berth remains possible.
All the Trojans must do is defeat Arizona State and No. 17 UCLA.
Before the season, when USC was ranked No. 1 and fans were checking hotel room rates and January flights to South Florida for the Bowl Championship Series title game, the Sun Devils did not seem like much of an obstacle.
Arizona State Coach Todd Graham was new in Tempe, Ariz., after a one-year stop at Pittsburgh. Linebacker and Trojans nemesis Vontaze Burfict, who helped lead Arizona State to a victory over the Trojans last season, was gone to the NFL.
Nine games into the season, Arizona State's 5-4 record does not exactly portend a powerhouse. But don't be fooled.
The Sun Devils' three losses are to Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State — all now ranked in the Associated Press top 20.
And, perhaps most significant, Arizona State runs a spread offense, the type of attack that has proved nearly impossible for the Trojans to contain in their last two games.
By now, the numbers are imprinted in the minds of reporters, players, coaches and fans: 101 points and 1,318 yards. That's what USC's defense gave up in losses to Arizona and to Oregon.
Kiffin said the Trojans have not played well on defense for the last "5 1/2 quarters."
"We're not causing people issues," he said. "Especially last week, you saw a lot of missed tackles."
Monte Kiffin, USC's assistant head coach for defense, said the Trojans went over the Oregon tape on Sunday and had worked through the emotional fallout by midweek.
"You talk to your squad, you get 'em back," he said, adding that Oregon, for the time being, was in the past and "you better be talking about Arizona State."
The Sun Devils feature quarterback Taylor Kelly and running backs Cameron Marshall, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. The defense is led by lineman Will Sutton.
These aren't Dennis Erickson's undisciplined Sun Devils.
Arizona State has gone from being college football's most penalized team in 2011 to having the seventh fewest penalties among 120 teams.
Meanwhile, USC has supplanted the Sun Devils at No. 120.
So USC coaches and players said they would not look past Arizona State, even with rival UCLA coming up next week.
"We've had some tough losses," receiver Robert Woods said, "so we're trying not to slip up again."
Said defensive line coach Ed Orgeron: "We're not good enough to look past anybody."