Mike Stoops sees special teams as a starting point, a way for eager underclassmen to prove their worth by playing a handful of snaps per game.

"My philosophy is: How do you expect to start on offense and defense if you can't play on special teams?" he said. "That's where you have to start as a player."

At USC, special teams are a finished product.

Of all the ways the Trojans outclassed the Wildcats in Saturday's 24-21 win at Arizona Stadium, special teams might have been the most, well, special.

USC confounded the Wildcats with a fake field goal, torched them for 75 return yards and, with the game on the line, extinguished any hope of a UA comeback. That a field goal decided the game - USC's Joe Houston made his, Arizona's Alex Zendejas did not - was fitting.

Following the game, Stoops vowed to re-evaluate the Wildcats' special teams during the bye week. The 23rd-ranked UA (7-3 overall, 4-3 Pac-10) will finish its season with games against No. 1 Oregon and rival Arizona State.

Coaches would be wise to follow USC's lead. Despite playing with a small roster because of NCAA sanctions, or in part because of them, the Trojans have made special teams a glamour job.

"We just have to look at what we're doing and maybe commit more personnel," Stoops said.

Here's a look at how the Trojans succeeded - and how the Wildcats failed:

First quarter

The Wildcats move 63 yards on their first drive before Zendejas is summoned to attempt a 34-yard field goal. Arizona's usually reliable kicker misses, wasting Arizona's first - and only - opportunity to take the lead. The Trojans drive and score on their next two possessions, taking a 14-0 lead while silencing an already sluggish Arizona Stadium crowd.

Second quarter

USC is facing fourth-and-3 from Arizona's 11 when coach Lane Kiffin sends out his field goal team to attempt a 28-yard kick. But the Trojans fake it - holder Mitch Mustain, a former star quarterback at Arkansas, takes the shotgun snap, rolls to his right and finds Cameron Jordan for a 7-yard gain and the first down. Two plays later, tailback Marc Tyler gives the Trojans a 21-7 lead.

Stoops said the Wildcats "kinda got caught" by the trick play.

"They've done that in the past," he said.

Fourth quarter

Facing fourth-and-13 from USC's 41, Arizona's coaches send out Zendejas - a kicker by trade - to punt in place of senior Keenyn Crier. Zendejas delivers, pooching a kick out of bounds at the Trojans' 6 with 14:37 remaining.

"With Alex, the pooch-punting is one thing he does better," Stoops said. "Keenyn's had a problem with that over the course of the season."

Things unravel, however, when Arizona coaches push their luck with Zendejas. His second punt, from the UA 26, goes just 30 yards. USC uses the advantageous field position to run 6 minutes 36 seconds off the clock. By the time Arizona gets the ball back, there's only 2:10 left.

Moments after Nick Foles finds David Douglas for a touchdown that cuts USC's lead to 24-21, the Wildcats send out their onside kick team. Kiffin calls a timeout once he sees the Wildcats' formation, forcing the UA to show a different look. John Bonano's onside kick is weak - the ball bounces once, right into the hands of USC's Ross Cumming. The Trojans' backup linebacker smothers the ball and falls to the ground, snuffing out any hope of a UA comeback. The Trojans then run the final 61 seconds off the clock and hold on to win by three points.

"I didn't think it was a great kick," Stoops said. "It bounced right to 'em. We didn't give ourselves much of a chance."

Up next

• Who: Arizona at Oregon

• When: 5 p.m., Nov. 26


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM


With first-place votes in parentheses, records through Nov. 13 and previous ranking.

1. Oregon (38) 10-0 1

2. Auburn (12) 11-0 2

3. Boise St. (9) 9-0 4

4. TCU (1) 11-0 3

5. LSU 9-1 5

6. Wisconsin 9-1 6

7. Stanford 9-1 7

8. Ohio St. 9-1 8

9. Nebraska 9-1 9

10. Alabama 8-2 11

11. Michigan St. 9-1 10

12. Oklahoma St. 9-1 12

13. Arkansas 8-2 14

14. Virginia Tech 8-2 16

15. Missouri 8-2 20

16. Oklahoma 8-2 19

17. South Carolina 7-3 22

18. Texas A&M 7-3 23

19. Nevada 9-1 21

20. Southern Cal 7-3 -

21. Iowa 7-3 13

22. Mississippi St. 7-3 17

23. Arizona 7-3 18

24. Miami 7-3 -

25. Utah 8-2 15

Others receiving votes: Northwestern 99, Florida St. 69, N.C. State 38, N. Illinois 37, San Diego St. 32, Temple 9, Michigan 4, Syracuse 2, Tulsa 2, Delaware 1, Maryland 1.