(AP) — Arizona's 1-3 record fools nobody at Southern California.
The Trojans realize Saturday's visitors had a nightmarish schedule in September, facing top-10 foes Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks. Even without the memories of Arizona's win in its last trip to the Coliseum, the Wildcats' talent would be obvious to USC (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12), which harbors no feelings of superiority over an opponent it dominated in the previous decade.
"That must be the toughest first-month schedule ever," USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. "We know what kind of team they really are."
Yet the Trojans are still wondering what kind of team they are. After undoing much of the good feelings from a 3-0 start with a blowout loss at Arizona State last weekend, USC has a chance to head into its bye week with an impressive record.
But the Wildcats have more at stake than the bowl-banned Trojans. Arizona has lost six straight conference games and hasn't beaten an FBS opponent in nearly a full year.
"We need to win this game and try to make up some ground on our side of the (Pac-12 South) division," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "We play everybody over the course of the season. We need to get off to a better start, and this would be a great way."
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and USC's Matt Barkley seem likely to turn the game into an aerial showcase with their favorite targets, Wildcats star Juron Criner and Trojans sophomore Robert Woods. The rest of the matchup is tougher to predict: Both teams have been inconsistent defensively, and both are coming off embarrassing losses.
Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes without an interception while completing 70 percent of his throws for the nation's fifth-best passing offense, finding holes in several outstanding defenses while connecting with a receiving corps that ranks among the conference's best.
Spread offenses frequently have baffled the Trojans since coach Lane Kiffin's return to the school, leading to speculation that assistant head coach Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense doesn't work against the spread. Arizona State used the scheme effectively in last week's 43-22 win over USC.
"They can run such a unique, quick game because they have such a weapon at quarterback," USC linebacker Chris Galippo said. "He's going back and seeing all his options so quick, and just getting the ball out with insane accuracy."
The effectiveness of USC's pass-rush could be a decisive factor: Foles has been sacked 10 times in the last two games, and the Trojans likely don't fear Arizona's running game, which ranks last in the Pac-12 with just 62.2 yards per game — second-worst in the nation.
USC's defense had been solid this season until falling apart late in the loss at Arizona State. Still, the Trojans have managed just one interception and two fumble recoveries all season, ranking last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin.
"Probably the most surprising thing of anything that's happened over our time here is the lack of turnovers," Lane Kiffin said. "Very surprised, with as much attention as we put on it. We've tried basically everything. We even gave them ice cream for turnovers, and that didn't work. We thought that would work with the linemen especially."
But Barkley was sharp in the Trojans' first three games, and USC's running game has been solid despite a green offensive line. Marc Tyler has carried the ball with urgency since returning from a one-game suspension, racking up 303 yards and two TDs in three games — and he had the best game of his USC career against Arizona last season, running for 160 yards on a bad ankle.
"They definitely have some weaknesses," Barkley said. "Their front four is not as experienced as it was last year."
The Wildcats are still figuring out how to stop the run, although their opponents probably had something to do with that. The Cats yielded a jaw-dropping 415 yards rushing against Oregon, and they're giving up 233.5 yards per game this season, 114th among 120 FBS teams.
"It's more of just calming down and concentrating and handling your job," Arizona defensive end C.J. Parish said. "Too many people were out there trying to do other people's jobs. You've just got to calm down and do your job, that's the main thing."