Once considered the favorite to win the Pac-12 South division, the Southern California football team is scrambling to salvage its season as it heads down the stretch.
Earlier this week, the Trojans (4-4, 3-3 Pac-12), who have lost two in a row, made changes to their coaching staff by firing offensive line coach Neil Callaway and taking play-calling duties away from offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
Head coach Clay Helton will now call plays for the offense, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring (27.1 points per game) and 11th in total offense (364.1 yards per game).
"The play-calling has been something I've been itching to do and get back more involved with the offense and I felt it was an appropriate time," Helton, who is 31-14 in his third full season at USC, said to local media earlier this week.
"When I first took the job I knew how big the job was at USC. I had done it twice and wanted to be able to get comfortable in my own skin as a head coach. Now, being third year in it, I know the ground work, I know where everything lays and feel extremely comfortable to be able to lead an offense, as well as the team. It's something I've wanted to do."
USC had a 19-game home winning streak snapped with a 38-35 loss to Arizona State last week. The defending Pac-12 champions haven't had four losses this early in a season since 2001 — Pete Carroll's first season with the Trojans.
Down the stretch, the Trojans have a manageable schedule with a visit to Oregon State this week, home against California, at UCLA and home against Notre Dame.
To win the South, USC would need to win their final three conference games and hope Utah (6-2, 4-2) loses twice.
Cougars have a shot
Going into November, Washington State is the Pac-12's last shot at getting into the College Football Playoff. The first CFP rankings were unveiled on Tuesday night, with the Cougars (7-1, 4-1) coming in at No. 8.
Washington State can't match some of the other contenders when it comes to schedule strength. The Cougars' nonconference slate included Wyoming (3-6), San Jose State (1-7) and a Football Bowl Subdivision school in Eastern Washington.
Win out, however, and the Cougars would have a solid resume at 12-1.
No. 1 Alabama (8-0) running the table would help Wazzu, because that would give second losses to both No. 3 LSU and No. 6 Georgia.
USC could also do Wazzu a favor by knocking off Notre Dame on Nov. 24. USC handed the Cougars their only loss, and that wouldn't look so bad if the Trojans finish strong.
Utes go for No. 5
No. 16-ranked Utah (6-2, 4-2) is alone atop the South division and can solidify that spot on Saturday afternoon. The Utes will visit Arizona State (4-4, 2-3), which is riding high after the upset of USC last week.
Utah brings a four-game winning streak into Tempe, outscoring opponents 164-69 during the streak. Beat the Sun Devils and the Utes will be in prime position to take the South for the first time.
Should ASU win, however, that would give every South team at least three losses, making the final three weeks a free-for-all for the title.
Going into the season, it seemed nearly impossible that Saturday's matchup between Stanford (5-3, 3-2) and Washington (6-3, 4-2) would feature two unranked teams. Both are coming off losses, but are still in contention in the North if Washington State should fall. ... Four Pac-12 running backs rank among the top 11 nationally in rushing yards per game: Oregon State's Jermar Jefferson (sixth, 129.3), Utah's Zack Moss (seventh, 120.5), ASU's Eno Benjamin (ninth, 117.3) and Arizona's J.J. Taylor (11th, 114.3).