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USC firmly in Pac-12 South race after pummeling California

Eric Risberg/Associated Press
USC wide receiver Nelson Agholar had a pair of long punt returns for touhdowns vs. Cal.

Scoreboard watching is going to be in vogue over the final month of Pac-12 play, and resurgent USC is going to be at the center of it all.

The Trojans are back in the race for the South division title after a 62-28 pummeling of California on Saturday that featured three touchdowns from running back Javorius "Buck" Allen and three special-teams touchdowns for their third consecutive conference win under interim head coach Ed Orgeron.

Resigned to life in former head coach Lane Kiffin's doghouse only weeks earlier, Allen rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns on six carries and added a third touchdown on a 57-yard screen pass. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt sophomore has flashed a big-play dimension that the USC ground game had been lacking since joining the tailback rotation after Kiffin's midseason firing, and did so again with scoring scampers of 43 and 79 yards.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor added punt returns of 75 and 93 yards for touchdowns, while cornerback Josh Shaw plucked a blocked punt out of the air and took it 14 yards into the end zone, tying the NCAA record set by Oklahoma in 2003 with three scores off of opposing punts.

Those eruptions resulted in a quiet game for wide receiver Marqise Lee, who caught only one ball for 13 yards.

Up next for USC, a home game against Stanford that Oregon will be watching intently. The Ducks need the Cardinal to lose one of its final two conference games to retake control of the North after losing 26-20 on the Farm on Thursday night.

Considering the Golden Bears just gave up 256 rushing yards in a performance that confirmed their status as the worst scoring defense in school history, USC represents UO's last, best chance for that to happen.

USC needs to win out and for Arizona State to lose twice for the Trojans to make the Pac-12 championship game, a goal that seemed laughable when Kiffin was fired in the middle of the night only hours after losing to the Sun Devils.

Now, it is certainly in play, if the results break the right way.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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