AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre The USC-California game featured the conference’s two-best teams, not to mention two best stories with the Trojans’ success and wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s mouth captivating the nation. Instead, Oregon and Arizona State turned out to be the Pac-10’s pivotal game. And if you’re looking for a culprit, from USC’s vantage point, it might be the Trojans’ wide receivers. USC’s offense remains a work in progress after nine games. Sure, you can try to pin the blame on quarterback injuries, but the Trojans consistently seem incapable of rolling up big numbers unless they face an inferior opponent (hello Notre Dame!). Even quarterback John David Booty’s much-anticipated return disappointed because of spotty receivers and high passes. “We took a step back in the overall catching of the ball,” USC coach Pete Carroll said Sunday night. “You have to hit stuff. We missed a lot of balls that we hit all week long in practice.” Carroll counted four dropped passes against Oregon State but it did not matter with the defense completely shutting down the Beavers. After nine games, it’ s apparent USC’s preseason hype depended on an offense that could sometimes match the defense. COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Booty’s return disappoints because of shaky receivers and high passes. By Scott Wolf Staff Writer This was supposed to be the week the Pacific-10 Conference decided who would represent it for a chance at the BCS national championship game. People assumed Booty could put up big numbers like last year, when he threw for 406 yards against Oregon State and 391 against Michigan. But they forgot who Booty would throw to. USC no longer offers a Steve Smith or Dwayne Jarrett to frustrate a secondary. And even now, it’s hard to zero in on one receiver as the main threat besides tight end Fred Davis. Is it Patrick Turner? Vidal Hazelton? USC has always enjoyed a strong receiving corps the previous five seasons, but this year’s group has been noticeably different. “I feel we’re still the best team in the country, but the games we’ve lost were because of turnovers,” Hazelton said. That view might be shared by Carroll, but he also said he was perplexed some of Booty’s passes were high, although maybe he forgot the Washington game, which occurred before he broke his finger. “We were high with a couple balls,” he said. “Hopefully, we knocked the rust off.” Ironically, the receivers said they thought Booty’s accuracy was just fine. Turner said he did not notice any difference, and Hazelton echoed him. “I couldn’t tell. He seemed accurate to me,” Hazelton said. Technically, the Trojans (7-2, 4-2) remain in contention for the Rose Bowl, but the luster’s largely off their season while Cal (6-3, 3-3) went into full meltdown last month with three straight losses. Even usually cautious USC coach Pete Carroll could not talk up the Bears on Sunday night. “I’m surprised they are where they are now,” Carroll said. “They had some great players returning. It’s just the conference (parity). That’s the first time I can remember them losing three games in a row since I’ve been around.” The Bears also seem to have the Trojans’ respect. “Every game with them is physical, it doesn’t really matter what the score is,” linebacker Brian Cushing said. Notes: Offensive tackle Sam Baker (hamstring) worked out Sunday but remains doubtful for this week. Trainers told Carroll not to play tailback Stafon Johnson at the end of the game, but it was merely a preventive measure to avoid aggravating his sprained foot. … Fullback Alfred Rowe suffered a high-ankle sprain. Carroll did not know if cornerback Vincent Joseph would play this week. That’s because Joseph was suspended by athletic director Mike Garrett accumulating too many negative points by missing class and tutoring sessions.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!