The AP Top 25 poll has been released, and USC sits on the top at No. 1 to open their first season back from NCAA postseason sanctions. The Trojans are stacked with talent all over the field with Matt Barkley returning for his senior season and a Heisman run, Robert Woods leads one of the top receiving corps in the nation, Silas Redd‘s transfer makes one of the Trojans’ weaknesses coming out of spring practices a major strength, and the defense is underrated in it’s athleticism. It’s no surprise that they’re on top heading into Week 1, and they’ll likely be heavy favorites in every game this season. But every year a favorite gets tripped up on their way to a national title, so who will stop USC in 2012?
We can bet that any upset will come on the road. During the Trojans’ reign as the premier program on the West Coast from 2002-2008, USC was upset just one time at the Coliseum, in an epic meltdown against Stanford in 2007. Other than that shocker, the Trojans have handled their business at home. That doesn’t bode well for the Oregon Ducks, who are the obvious choice to challenge USC’s run to perfection, as they head to Los Angeles November 3 in one of the most anticipated games of the season in the Pac-12.
Fortunately for the Trojans, they don’t have to travel to Corvallis with the pressure of expectations on them this year. During that run of dominance, USC went to Oregon State and lost twice in 2006 and 2008, making the Beavers a surprising tripping block for some very talented USC teams. This season, the Beavers are off the Trojans’ schedule (along with Washington State) so they won’t have to worry about the orange and black this year.
That leaves the Pac-12 heavy-weights for Lane Kiffin‘s team to deal with, and most of them on the road. They have an early test September 15 when they travel to The Farm to take on No. 21 Stanford. Can the Cardinal get physical at the point of attack and control the game with their running attack? Or will breaking in a new quarterback that isn’t Andrew Luck leave Stanford without the fire power to keep up with the Trojans’ attack? If Stanford had more time to find their identity and get into a rhythm as a team, they would be a more dangerous obstacle for USC, but the Trojans will hit the ground running on all cylinders, and the Cardinal likely won’t be up to full speed by the third week of the season.
That leaves back-to-back road games against Utah and Washington October 4 and October 13 respectively as the most likely stretch for USC to get into some trouble. The trip to Salt Lake comes on a Thursday night, which could wreak some havoc with the Trojans’ pre-game routines and leave them a bit flat to start the game. They’ll be coming off of a bye week, so the Trojans’ coaching staff will be sure to do everything they can to avoid any distractions that could lead to a lack of focus for the team as they’ll need to be on top of their game to overcome a tough Utes squad. Last season, Utah came to the Coliseum and played the Trojans very tough (eventually losing 23-14) and return a physical running game led by John White IV and a bruising defense that could be a top-10 unit by season’s end.
If the Trojans get past Utah, they won’t have any opportunity to rest as they travel to the Pacific Northwest the following Saturday to take on the Huskies. Steve Sarkisian has had some very good success against his former team, winning the last two meetings in 2009 and 2010, and the Huskies are a dangerous team looking to make a statement in the Pac-12 this year. Keith Price is a dark horse Heisman candidate and could do wonders for his campaign with a statement win over the current favorite, Barkley. Will the battle-tested Huskies (three games against top 25 in first five games) be able to channel their big-game early season experience into a third straight upset of the Trojans?
USC is back in the hunt for a national title, which mean they’ll have the target on their back from day one and will get every team’s very best effort. Being named No. 1 in the AP poll solidified their status as favorites this season, and they’ll need to be on upset alert each and every week. If they can avoid any trap games, the Trojans will undoubtedly be in the mix for a BCS title at the end of the year. If they can’t, then some team is going to make their season by taking down the Trojans. Welcome back to the top, USC. Watch your step.
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