With just 75 days left before the start of the Trojans season, Lane Kiffin and company are preparing for what could be their first ten win season since 2008. Let’s take a look at game-by-game outlooks for the upcoming season (Note: Records in parentheses are from the 2010 season).
September 3, 2011 vs. Minnesota (3-9)
The Trojans begin their season against a Golden Gophers team that saw a promising season end in mediocre fashion and end the tenure of four-year coach Tim Brewster. Their new head coach is Jerry Kill, who took over the Minnesota job after posting a 23-16 record in three seasons as the Head Coach of Northern Illinois. They will also be without Quarterback Adam Weber, who graduated, and leading Running Back DeLeon Eskridge, who just recently decided to leave the team for personal reasons. Their new Quarterback is MarQueis Gray, a mobile passer who has transitioned to QB from Wide Receiver. While the Trojans have struggled with mobile passers in the past, it is highly expected that the Trojans post a ‘W’ during college football’s opening weekend.
September 10, 2011 vs. Utah (10-3)
Not many people are talking about the Utes as a possible Pac-12 sleeper, but Kyle Whittingham has proven year in and year out that his teams can win games against the best teams in college football. The Utes possess a strong offense under the direction of first-year Coordinator Norm Chow. He acquires Jordan Wynn, one of the more underrated Quarterbacks in all of college football. The Utes also possess a strong backfield and receiving core, but are weak in the secondary and on the defensive line. Don’t be surprised if USC’s unfamiliarity with the Utes allows Utah to pull off an early season upset in the Coliseum.
September 17, 2011 vs. Syracuse (8-5)
The Orange had a quiet resurgence in the underwhelming Big East last year and will be looking for a marquee out-of-conference win to help them improve on last season. Third year head coach Doug Marrone led the Orange to their first bowl game in six years, a victory over Kansas State in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl. The Orange return eight of 11 starters on offense, their top five receivers and starting Quarterback Ryan Nassib. However, they have to replace both defensive tackles, both cornerbacks and two of three linebackers. If USC’s defense endures the same growing pains they experienced in 2010, be prepared for a shootout.
September 24, 2011 at Arizona State (6-6)
The Sun Devils are receiving a lot of preaseason hype as not only a Pac-12 sleeper, but as a National Championship sleeper. Dennis Erickson will be in his fifth season at the helm of the Sun Devils in what is sure to be a make or break year. The Sun Devils possess one of the better defenses in the entire country, but have taken a hit in the form of season ending knee surgery for all Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden. The Sun Devils’ season will most likely rise or fall on first-year Quarterback starter Brock Osweiler, who has been inconsistent throughout his first few years at ASU. This game will be an important one for both teams and will be one of the better games early on in the college football season.
October 1, 2011 vs. Arizona (7-6)
The Wildcats possess one of the best passing attacks in all of college football led by Quarterback Nick Foles and Wide Receivers Juron Criner and Dan Buckner. However, an entirely new offensive line and three new starters on the defensive line will be key components to a Wildcats run. If the new starters are able to prove they belong in the Pac-12, the Wildcats can make a run at the conference crown. The Trojans, meanwhile, will be looking to avenge a loss they suffered two years ago against the Wildcats on their home turf. The Wildcats have proven they can win in the Coliseum, but expect the Trojans to win this game fairly easily.
October 13, 2011 at California (5-7)
This game will be played at AT&T Park and will be a very important game for Jeff Tedford’s future at University of California-Berkeley. The Golden Bears will have to rely on the best returning defense statistically because of an entirely new core on offense. The Bears will be breaking in a new Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Recievers during Tedford’s tenth season as the head coach. If the Bears defense is able to shut down the Trojans offense, they will make this game interesting. However, the Bears are expected to finish toward the bottom of conference, so the Trojans should have no trouble here.
October 22, 2011 at Notre Dame (8-5)
Brian Kelly will be back in his second season as the Head Coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looking to build off eight wins in 2010. The Irish are expected to be a top-25 team by this time of the season, so this will not be an easy game for the Trojans. Dayne Crist is expected to emerge as the starter during Notre Dame’s fall Quarterback battle, and will be complimented by athletic receivers and running backs. It is highly possible that both teams will be undefeated for this game, and if so, expect a battle all the way to the final whistle. This could be the best game of this rivalry since the infamous “Bush Push” in 2005.
October 29, 2011 vs. Stanford (12-1)
With the exception of Oregon, the Stanford Cardinal are the best returning team in the entire conference. This was validated when Quarterback Andrew Luck turned down a likely number one overall draft position to return for his redshirt junior season. The Cardinal will have to replace key players on both defense and offense, but have the pieces to repeat with ten or more wins. If the Trojans and Cardinal are able to get through their early seasons unscathed, this game is destined for a national College Gameday broadcast. However, if the Trojans struggle coming into this game, the Cardinal will more than likely continue those struggles.
November 4, 2011 at Colorado (5-7)
A lot of analysts are looking at this game as a potential trap game, as the Trojans may be looking ahead to consecutive games against Washington and Oregon. Another factor to consider is the cold winter temperatures in Boulder that the Trojans are not accustomed to in sunny southern California. However, the biggest factor to consider is that Colorado is one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 and are more likely than not to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 South standings. They have too many holes with a new Head Coach, new Quarterback and multiple new starters on both sides of the ball. The only way the Trojans lose this game is if they lose their focus.
November 12, 2011 vs. Washington (7-6)
The Huskies pseudo-disappointing year culminated in an impressive victory over highly ranked Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Their first bowl game in eight years was a coming out party for Running Back Chris Polk, likely the centerpiece of this year’s Huskies offense. The Huskies will also have their first new starting Quarterback in four years after the departure of Jake Locker. If the younger players at the skill positions continue their development, the Huskies may be able to make a run at Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North. However, the Trojans will most likely avenge last season’s loss at the Coliseum.
November 19, 2011 at Oregon (12-1)
The runner-up from last season’s National Championship game, the Oregon Ducks are easily the toughest team on the Trojans’ schedule. Their overpowering offense returns its Quarterback, Running Back and a majority of Wide Receivers, with the addition of back-to-back strong recruiting classes by Head Coach Chip Kelly. The Ducks took a huge hit this offseason in the form of Cliff Harris’ legal trouble, but the Ducks have the talent to replace his defensive and special teams impact. Barring a major collapse, the Oregon Ducks will most likely win this game in a hostile Autzen Stadium en route to a third consecutive conference title.
November 26, 2011 vs. UCLA (4-8)
After the NCAA ruled to keep the Trojans’ bowl ban intact for the upcoming season, this became the final game for USC during the 2011 season. UCLA has been trying to address their quarterback situation during Head Coach Rick Neuheisel’s entire time at the university, and most likely still has not found the answer. The pistol offense, now in its second year at UCLA, will either be manned by Richard Brehaut or Brett Hundley. UCLA does return a very solid backfield and a very solid defense, but their instability at Quarterback will most likely confine them to the middle of the pack in the conference and a fringe bowl berth. Expect the Trojans to win this game.