Looking at the conference standings, No. 12 USC (6-2, 3-2 Pac-10) appears to be just another middle-of-the-pack team playing catch up to Oregon. But make no mistake, USC is still USC.
Listening to Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson this week, it's obvious he still respects the aura, the athletes and the tradition of the Trojans.
Statistically speaking, USC looks to have lost its luster on defense, but Erickson is still very weary of the talent-laden Trojans.
"They're the same," Erickson said. "They got the best players in the country … That's their trademark, how fast they run and how they play defense."
As Erickson told reporters earlier this week, names like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart may be the first that come to mind when one thinks of USC, but coach Pete Carroll's dynasty was founded on defense. It's why USC's 47-20 loss at Oregon last weekend was all the more stunning.
Oregon's high-octane spread option gashed the Trojans for 391 yards on the ground, handing USC its worst loss since 1997. Before Saturday, Carroll's worst loss at USC was an 11-point defeat.
With the ugly effort, USC has given up an average of nearly 120 rushing yards per game, roughly 30 yards higher than last year's average.
But it would be foolish to expect ASU (4-4, 2-3) to approach such gaudy figures, as the Sun Devils average about 134 rushing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the conference.
Senior running back Dimitri Nance, who has started every game for ASU this season, took himself out of practice early on Wednesday and his availability for Saturday is unknown. Nance is still battling a shoulder injury that kept him on the sidelines after ASU's opening drive against Cal.
Freshman Cameron Marshall capitalized in Nance's absence and is in line to make his first collegiate start. Listed at 5-11, 210, Marshall said he came to Tempe with the intentions of making an immediate impact.
"It's gone pretty good," Marshall said of his transition to the college level. "From summer to training camp until now, the regular season, I've gotten better as we've progressed through the year. I'm really happy about my progress so far."
Marshall established himself as a physical presence in between the tackles against Cal, carrying the ball 16 times for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Since coming to ASU, Marshall said he's spent plenty of time learning the techniques of pass-blocking, something he rarely did in high school. He's also been trying to improve his flexibility to complement his physical, downhill style.
If there's one thing you can say about Marshall's success, it's that he earned it. Early in the season, Marshall was just one of four or five backs trying to separate himself from the pack. Marshall even started the Cal game at No. 3 on the depth chart and didn't see the field until sophomore Ryan Bass fumbled near the goal line.
"I'm real excited I'm able to do all this," Marshall said. "But I can't really say I'm surprised."
When Marshall lines up in the backfield on Saturday, he'll be facing the most formidable front seven ASU has played all year.
Though USC lost its three starting linebackers to the NFL last season, Erickson said this year's trio of Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan is just as good.
When talking about USC's defensive front, Erickson couldn't help but gush about defensive end Everson Griffen, who has recorded eight sacks this year.
"He's special, man," Erickson said. "He's as good a player as there is in the country. He controls a lot of the game, particularly with his pass rush."
On the flipside of things is the ASU defense, which is still feeling out the secondary situation. Sophomore safety Clint Floyd and redshirt freshman cornerback Deveron Carr remained with the first team on Wednesday.
Though USC boasts one of the conference's elite receiving corps, Floyd said he isn't daunted by the tall task ahead.
"They're a little faster but they're not the best wide receiving corps we've went through," Floyd said. "They got a little speed but it's nothing we can't handle."
The ASU secondary gave up 351 yards to Cal quarterback Kevin Riley last week and is giving up an average of roughly 216 yards per game, good for fifth in the Pac-10.
Senior center Thomas Altieri was back in full pads on Wednesday, but sophomore Garth Gerhart still took all the first-team snaps at center.
Junior cornerback Omar Bolden was fully dressed but spent all of Wednesday on the sidelines. Junior cornerback LeQuan Lewis was held out of practice after injuring his ankle during Tuesday's practice.