By Michael Briggs @MichaelSBriggs on July 24, 2014
After a few years of failing to live up to their own standards, the men of Troy enter 2014 with a chance to reclaim their stake among college football's elite in the inaugural season of the playoff system. Although one of the new faces leading this year's squad, head coach Steve Sarkisian, is an old one, don't be fooled — this is a new Trojans program. Just what type of program that is, however, we will find out soon.
In a strange turn of events, USC will face off with Fresno State in the first game of the 2014 season after playing the Bulldogs in the last game of 2013. The Trojans' 45-20 bowl rout of FSU could be even uglier just a few months later, however, as the Bulldogs will travel to the Coliseum with a brand new starting QB and inexperienced group of receivers this time. The Trojans will have to get all the kinks ironed out in this one, however.
As I mentioned, USC does not have three or four games to ease into their identity with their schedule, as a big-time opponent in Stanford awaits them in the second week. A clash with the Cardinal on the road this early will test just how quickly the Trojans can mold into Steve Sarkisian's image, as a good pass game and run defense could create issues. Can USC's vaunted defensive secondary and questionable offensive line get it done?
Although this one is on the road, the Trojans are clearly the superior team. A win over Stanford could make this one a laugher early, but then again, a loss may also motivate USC to inflict pain on the Eagles, who have a major rebuilding job ahead of them on defense. As long as the Trojans aren't looking ahead to their next opponent, this game won't be of any concern.
Following consecutive road games and a trip out east, Southern Cal heads back to the sunny confines of the Coliseum to host the ever-pesky Oregon State Beavers. OSU QB Sean Mannion set a Pac-12 record with 4,662 passing yards and 37 touchdowns last season, meaning there is plenty of chomp in the Beavers' bite. However, USC should be able to get plenty of pressure on Mannion, who is playing behind an offensive line replacing three starters.
A likely-to-be ranked Sun Devils squad will head to Los Angeles for USC's next big challenge, bringing with them another great passing attack capable of putting a lot of points on the board. However, the Sun Devils are also pretty vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball, where they lost a ton of production. The Trojans' offense is good enough to temper ASU's Pac-12 expectations.
Following their tussle with the Sun Devils, the Trojans will travel to Tucson to take on an Arizona team that will trot out a new starting quarterback. However, don't expect a schlub to line up under center for the Wildcats, who will pick their new signal caller from a group that includes a highly-touted recruit and transfers from USC, Texas and LSU. Arizona also features a solid defense, particularly due to an experienced secondary.
After a few tough games, USC will gladly welcome Colorado to L.A. The Buffaloes should be a bit improved on defense — although that isn't saying too much considering their 2013 squad surrendered 468 yards per game. The Trojans will dominate the line of scrimmage and get their starters some much-needed rest in the third and fourth quarters.
Utah's move to the Pac-12 has not been beneficial to their on-field success, as the Utes have failed to make bowl games the past two seasons after years of excelling as the underdog in the Mountain West. The 2014 season does not appear to be the turning point for Utah to get back on track, either. Expect consecutive blowout wins for the Trojans.
The Cougars' pass offense was ranked fourth in the nation with QB Connor Halliday last season, helping WSU take an important step forward in head coach Mike Leach's second season. This attack will be imposing for the Trojans on the road, but at this point, USC will have had plenty of experience against star quarterbacks. If WSU's defense has improved, this could be a tough one, but that's a major "if" considering how they played in 2013.
California could be really bad again in 2014 after winning just one game last season. That being said, with a more experienced team taking the field, the Bears are not going to be one-win bad. Their "Air Raid" passing attack will be another test for the Trojans' secondary, but certainly not one they are unprepared or unequipped for. Even with next week's opponent on their mind, Cal won't be able to scratch past the surface of USC's armor.
The 2014 USC vs. UCLA football game should be one of the best in the rivalry's history, as both teams could be ranked in the top ten and eying a spot in the college football playoff. The Bruins feature a Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Brett Hundley and what will likely be a very good pass defense capable of making the Trojans too one-dimensional. However, UCLA's pass protection was also atrocious in 2013. This is a toss-up.
USC will wrap their regular season up with another rival when Notre Dame travels to L.A. 2012 starter Everett Golson is back under center for the Irish, but time will tell how his year away from football affected his game. ND also has major question marks with its defensive front, which lost a lot of star power. However, there's no denying Notre Dame's potential to be a contender this season, making this game highly impactful for both teams.
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