Max Wittek is a redshirt freshman without a college start on his resume. But USC's 19-year-old quarterback said his inexperience gave him at least one advantage going into Saturday's game at the Coliseum against top-ranked Notre Dame.
"Not being able to have seen me before," Wittek said of the Fighting Irish, "they don't know what to expect."
Talk about unexpected: It's been a season of surprises.
In August, USC was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press media poll, coach Lane Kiffin was hailed as the savvy architect of a program unbroken by severe NCAA sanctions, Matt Barkley was a Heisman Trophy front-runner and the Trojans envisioned a trip to South Florida for the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Three months later, USC is 7-4 and unranked, fans are calling for Kiffin's head, Barkley is sidelined because of a sprained shoulder, and an unenviable bowl trip to El Paso could be in the Trojans' future.
Meanwhile, a Notre Dame team absent from the preseason top 25 is 11-0. After consecutive 8-5 seasons, Brian Kelly is a coach-of-the-year candidate. Linebacker Manti Te'o is in the Heisman mix and, perhaps most important, the Irish are two victories from their first national title since 1988.
The scenario has made Kiffin and the Trojans unlikely favored sons in Southeastern Conference country, where fans are rooting for an upset that would eliminate 5½-point favorite Notre Dame from the BCS title equation.
Not that Kiffin is worried about repairing his image in the South. There's plenty of heat at home. After last week's 38-28 loss to UCLA, athletic director Pat Haden told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, "Lane is my head coach, 150 percent, now and hopefully for a long time."
That did little to soothe a Trojans fan base that has watched USC lose three of its last four games.
Oregon-Oregon State: With so many scenarios for how the season may -- or may not -- play out, No. 5 Oregon was focused only on Oregon State and the 116th Civil War.
Oregon's march toward the national championship game detoured last Saturday with a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Now, even the team's shot at the Pac-12 title is in jeopardy.
"You have to be mentally tough," Oregon running back Kenjon Barner said. "It's football. You're going to lose some games. It happens."
Saturday's Civil War at Reser Stadium is a must-win for Oregon (10-1, 7-1) if it wants to keep its hopes for a fourth straight Pac-12 title alive.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley laughed when asked this if he's worried the Ducks will be doubly motivated against the 16th-ranked Beavers (8-2, 6-2) after the loss.
"I don't know what their mindset is going to be," Riley said. "But they're a really good, resilient football team. So that's what we expect."
Florida-Florida State: Two of the nation's best teams, with national championship hopes on the line. Now this feels like one of those classic Florida-Florida State games.
In recent years, the rivalry hasn't been quite what it used to be when Bobby Bowden was coaching the Seminoles and Steve Spurrier was leading the Gators back in the 1990s. For the first time since 2000, both teams are ranked in the top 10 for their regular-season finale.
Defense is each team's signature, so expect points and yards to be tough to come by Saturday in Tallahassee.
The 10th-ranked Seminoles (10-1) lead the nation in total defense and rank among the top five in four other defensive categories. No. 6 Florida (10-1) isn't far behind, sitting fourth nationally in total defense.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.