With a new, and improved, coach at the helm and some major returning pieces on both sides of the ball, the USC Trojans will be a force to be reckoned with. Steve Sarkisian was given a very talented team and he will have plenty to work with as the starting quarterback and one of the best receivers in the nation return from a 9-4 squad.
Returning just 13 starters to a team that went 11-2 last season sounds like tough luck, but the offense still brings back some key pieces while nearly the entire secondary and all of the linebackers return for another year. Don’t sleep on the Fresno State Bulldogs as they might just start the season with an upset over an unsuspecting Trojan team in a rematch of last year’s Las Vegas Bowl.
The Trojans had a somewhat lethargic offense to begin the 2013 campaign, but it heated up once Lane Kiffin was fired as head coach following the fifth game of the season. Cody Kessler ended up winning the starting QB job and has since kept it as his own. The junior quarterback passed for 2,977 yards and 20 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and he is expected to have an even more impressive stat line with a complete 2014 season. Any quarterback could put up huge numbers with a future NFL talent at receiver like Nelson Agholor. The junior wide out is one of the best in the nation and he proved that in 2013, catching 51 passes for 824 yards and four touchdowns. The run game will be fine behind the team MVP Javorius Allen who finished the 2013 season with 785 yards and 14 scores.
Fresno State lost a ton of offensive talent with the departure of one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Derek Carr and one of the top receivers in the country, Davante Adams. Replacing those two studs will be difficult, but the Bulldogs have a quarterback battle on their hands and that usually means a solid starter will eventually emerge. Duke transfer Brandon Connette has some valuable experience, passing for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns last season to go along with 337 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. The other option is junior Brian Burrell who has just 51 career passing yards. Whoever wins the job still has one of the top wide out threats in the conference in Josh Harper who caught 79 passes for 1,011 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were one of the worst units in the nation. Having such a good offense meant that they scored fast and made the defense have to come back onto the field quickly. Fresno State ranked 86th in scoring defense and 95th in total defense while ranking a lowly 117th in passing defense. The Bulldogs return eight starters. The Trojans also return eight starters from a team that ranked 16th in scoring defense and 13th in total defense. Who will fare better? You be the judge.
Fresno State will travel to USC to take on the Trojans at 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Aug. 30. The game will be broadcasted on FOX.
PREDICTION: Fresno State 13, USC 38
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.