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O/NSO: 2020 Lakers and Dodgers are champions, so are the 2020 Trojans next? Game-by-game predictions edition

The Obvious: In 1988 when the Dodgers and the Lakers won world championships in the same year, the USC Trojans football team went 10-1 in the regular season, 8-0 in the Pac-10, won the conference championship, advancing to the 1989 Rose Bowl Game. With both the Dodgers and Lakers winning world titles in 2020, will the Trojans again be part of the winning trifecta?  

The Not So Obvious: If the Trojans are to follow in the footsteps of this season’s Dodgers and Lakers, they’ll need an exceptional Pac-12 season, probably an undefeated season, which could culminate in a potential run at a CFP National Championship. The quest begins on Saturday morning, Nov. 7, when the Men of Troy host Arizona State in a fan-less Coliseum. With all that in mind, the O/NSO now presents our annual game-by-game predictions for this extraordinary conference-only season in the face of COVID-19.

The Obvious Game 1 – Arizona State (2019 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12) – Ret. Off. 4, Def. 8, SPT. punter 1/placekicker 1.

The Trojans open the conference-only season on Saturday, Nov. 7, against the Sun Devils, matching the predicted two top contenders in the Pac-12 South Division (9:00 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET/FOX).

The Trojans will be looking to leap into first place in the Pac-12 South Division when they host Arizona State in the season and conference opener for both teams.

The Not So Obvious ASU game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: ASU has a new offensive (Zack Hill) and co-defensive coordinator (Marvin Lewis), and there is no way either side of the ball is going to be efficient in the first game. No way! The Trojans have great confidence that the Sun Devils’ new defense isn’t ready for the Trojans’ sophomore Heisman Trophy quarterback candidate Kedon Slovis. You also think the revised ASU defense is ready for arguably the nation’s premier receiving corps? Of course not. This could be the most physical offensive line we’ve seen at Troy in a long time. And how about the Trojans’ defense? It’s been reborn in attitude, and if I am an ASU skill player on offense, you’d better know where USC junior safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao are at all times, and did we mention USC’s gifted sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Drake Jackson, junior defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu, and stud junior inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote?

To further bolster my cause, ASU has had to rebuild its own offensive line and must probably rely on grad transfer tackles Kellen Diesch and Henry Hattis. And how do the Sun Devils replace star running back Eno Benjamin, a stud of a ball carrier that went to the NFL? They can’t. Come on, the Trojans have too much talent for ASU. And the Trojans’ special teams are NFL caliber in sophomore punter Ben Griffiths and junior placekicker Chase McGrath. Yeah, ASU has a talented sophomore QB Jayden Daniels from our local Inland Empire area, but you know how SoCal kids do when they return to SoCal and play in the Coliseum for the first time. Can you say “deer in the headlights”?     

How big a factor will Trojans junior placekicker Chase McGrath (photo above – No. 40) have on the outcome of the opener against Arizona State?

The O/NSO pessimist: You know what they say about first games: Anything that can go wrong will probably go wrong, especially with a Clay Helton-coached team. Yes, the Trojans have a new and exciting aggressive defense, but that won’t work as well because ASU’s sophomore dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels will make the Trojans new aggressive defense pay dearly. Expect for Daniels to give the Trojans’ defense fits with his athletic, scrambling ability. And don’t discount the Sun Devils’ receivers and senior Frank Darby, who isn’t exactly chopped liver. You’ll have to prove to me that the Trojans rebuilt offensive line is going to bring the wood. We’ve heard it before, blah, blah, blah. Poor Kedon Slovis, who was a human pinata last season until he was finally knocked out by Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. Hope Boy Wonder has some sort of London insurance policy. And let’s not forget on defense the Trojans have lost All-Pac-12 defensive tackle and potential first-round draft pick Jay Tufele, who elected to hold true to getting ready for the 2021 spring NFL draft.

Defensively, ASU has added former NFL coach Marvin Lewis as co-DC. And don’t forget Sun Devils’ senior corner Jack Jones, who seems to have gotten his act together and was once a Trojan. Ya think ASU head coach Herm Edwards won’t test the Trojans questionable offensive line? Yes, ASU has a formidable defense with eight returning starters. And ya think that a 9 a.m. kickoff isn’t going to affect the Men of Troy? And one last item, don’t forget that ASU has redshirt junior placekicker Cristian Zendejas, who  was one of 30 student-athletes named to the watch list for the 2020 Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award. And let’s also don’t forget, the Trojans barely beat ASU last season, 31-26, in Tempe, and that was without star QB Jayden Daniels.

ASU’s standout sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels (photo above) missed last season’s game with Troy.

The O/NSO realist: The Trojans still have more talent than ASU, and this USC team is better coached on the defensive side of the ball. No doubt the Trojans will have their hands full with dynamic ASU QB Daniels, and it may take a quarter for the Cardinal and Gold to adjust to Daniels scrambling. It will be a test of USC’s defensive discipline. Offensively, if the Trojans’ offensive line can protect Kedon Slovis and the Trojans show ASU a keep-them-honest running game, the Cardinal and Gold have too many skill players, who will one day play in the NFL.

The Trojans are hoping that sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above) will be raising Tommy Trojans’ sword to represent a victory over Arizona State.

If the Trojans allow the Sun Devils to hang around deep into the second half, this could be a game decided by Troy’s junior placekicker Chase McGrath. As a side note, it’s a shame that the biggest game of the Pac-12 South Division is being played as the season opener. The winner will definitely be in the driver seat with five games to go in the regular season. One wildcard to consider is that ASU has been practicing daily in the early morning since fall camp, while the Trojans have been restricted by academic fall scheduling from consecutive early morning practices. However, that may be overblown since the Trojans are actually in the weight room by 6 a.m.     

The O/NSO prediction: USC 38, ARIZONA STATE 27

The Obvious Game 2 – AT ARIZONA (2019 record 4-8 overall, 2-7 Pac-12) – Ret. Off.7, Def. 7, SPT. placekicker 1/ punter 1).

Saturday, November 14, marks the Trojans’ first road game, and a Pac-12 South battle with the Wildcats in Tucson (Kickoff time/TV TBD).

The Trojans will be looking to come to Wildcats Stadium (photo above) and bring home a victory over Arizona.

The Not So Obvious Arizona game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: Arizona? No problem. When was the last time they were a true threat? Well, this season they won’t have dynamic quarterback Khalil Tate, who has graduated, so there is another reason there won’t be an upset. Let’s face it, the firing countdown on beleaguered Wildcats’ head coach Kevin Sumlin is well underway. Their offensive hopes revolve Grant Gunnell, who will be a sophomore, so that shouldn’t strike fear into the Trojans’ defense. And remember, the Wildcats are also looking for a new running back after the departure of tiny but productive J.J. Taylor.

Last season, the Arizona offense averaged 26.9 points per game in the wild-scoring Pac-12, but their defense was ranked 118 in the nation, giving up an average of 35.9 points per game. Do you think the Trojans’ offense won’t be visiting the end zone early and often? That’s a rhetorical question to say the least. And you know what? Arizona returns nine of eleven starters on that joke of a defense.  

The USC offense and sophomore running back Kenan Christon (photo above – No. 23) will attack an ASU defense that was ranked 118 in the nation in 2019.

The O/NSO pessimist: You really have to go digging to find some reason to believe the Trojans could lose this game, but the game is being playing in Tucson, and maybe the Men of Troy will be looking forward to the following week for a second consecutive road trip and the Utah Utes, a game that will have a significant impact in the South Division race. Despite their obvious limitations, UA does have a fine young quarterback in sophomore Gunnell (6-6, 225), who some think has the strongest arm in the Pac-12 Conference.   

The Trojans are hoping that Arizona’s beleaguered head coach Kevin Sumlin (photo above) and his Wildcats will be easy pickins when the Men of Troy visit Tucson on Nov. 14.

The O/NSO realist: Given the fact that Arizona is already picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South Division, they open their Pac-12 mini-season at physical Utah. When the Trojans travel to Tucson, they will probably find a Wildcats team already on the ropes. Since the game is being played near mid-November, weather shouldn’t be an issue, and kickoff time should also not be a factor, as well. Unless Clay Helton’s team plays their worst game of the short campaign, the most exciting thing about this game will be watching the Trojans’ scrubbeannies get valuable playing time.

Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton (photo above) expects to lead his team to an expected big victory at Arizona.

Now, here’s a little secret: There are folks in Tucson that think it’s possible that Arizona doesn’t win a game this season. However, that may not be the worst of it. Always looking forward to their men’s basketball team after a dismal football season, the Wildcats were notified recently that their men’s hoopsters are under a Level 1 NCAA investigation, the worst scrutiny available. No, these are not happy times in Tucson, and memories of Desert Swarm and legendary coach Dick Tomey are just that – a faded memory.   

The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Arizona 17

The Obvious Game 3 – At Utah (2019 record 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12)/ Ret. Off. 7, Def. 2, SPT. placekicker 1/ punter 1).

The Utah game in Provo will be played on Saturday, Nov. 21 (Kickoff time/TV TBD).

The Trojans will draw a huge break when they visit Utah’s Rice Eccles Stadium (photo above) because the rabid Utah fans and their famed student section, The MUSS, are restricted from attending the game.

The Not So Obvious Utah game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: Man, there are a lot of things to like that favor the Trojans in this game. First, Utah has a ton of holes in its offense and defensive personnel. They lost last season’s dynamic quarterback-running back duet (QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss), and their defense (only two returning starters) needs to be retooled. Then there is the fact that no fans will be in attendance in scary Rice-Eccles Stadium, a major influence in previous Utes victories over the Trojans. Sure, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is a mastermind running his program, but at some point – and this will be the point – the Trojans will score and score against the rebuilt Utes’ defense, and the Trojans’ defense will limit any Utah offensive surge.

It figures if the Trojans have earlier beaten ASU and can attain victory in Salt Lake City, USC will be more than in the driver seat to win the Pac-12 South, having conquered their two biggest challengers in the Sun Devils and the Utes. All that would be left are home games with lowly Colorado and Washington State and a “road” game with shakey UCLA in Pasadena.   

The O/NSO pessimist: If you’re looking for the trap game, dude, this is it. If USC or ASU aren’t going to win the South Division, it’s likely going to be the Utah Utes. Somebody needs to remind our dear optimist buddy that Utah has won the last two Pac-12 South Division titles, and Utah head coach Whittingham runs a more physically based program than Clay Helton’s yearly finesse program. Fans or no fans, this is still a game to beware. One thing for sure, the Utes won’t be outhit by the Trojans. They will punch the Trojans repeatedly, and we see how the Men of Troy respond.  

The Trojans, especially at Utah, have their hands full battling head coach Kyle Whittingham (photo above) and his physical Utes.

Sure, the Trojans upset Utah in the Coliseum last season where the visitors have never won a game, but this game isn’t being played in Los Angeles but playing beneath the Wasatch Mountains of SLC are going to be difficult even without fans. It’s reflects the nature of the University of Utah and the “Hollywood” of USC. In terms of area populations, you won’t see Utah in most national recruiting rankings as you normally do with the Trojans, but it’s all about competing on the field and the Utes have more than held their own.   

The O/NSO realist: If the Trojans are going to win at Utah, considered a trap game by many, this would be the season with the Utes rebuilding for needs both offense and defense. However, Utah still has some known studs returning like junior receiver and special teams demon Britain Covey. The Wildcats are also looking for a new running back to replace Zack Moss, and they do have some strength along the offensive line in senior center Orlando Umana and sophomore Simi Moala, but the backfield is unproven unlike previous seasons.

Trojans’ first-year special teams coach Sean Snyder (photo above) will need to have his unit ready to defend against Utah special teams punt and kickoff returner Britain Covey, who is a game changer.

While Utah does have a stud linebacker in junior Devin Lloyd, they lack the star power of defensive linemen from previous seasons. If the Trojans’ offensive line can keep Kedon Slovis vertical and away from any clean shots by what’s certain to be an aggressive Utah defensive line, the Trojans should be able to control the game and pull away. It still won’t be easy, but again, without the famed Utah spirit section, The MUSS, in attendance, it presents a whole different environment.  

The O/NSO prediction: USC 31, Utah 20

The Obvious Game 4 – The Trojans host Colorado (2019 record – 5-7, 3-6 Pac-12)/ Ret. Off. 6, Def. 8, SPT. placekicker 1/punter 1).

It’s a Saturday, Nov. 28, Pac-12 South Division battle in the Coliseum (Kickoff time/TV TBD).

Colorado (photo above in white jerseys) has never beaten the Trojans (0-14) and is 0-7 playing the Trojans in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious Colorado game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: I had a wonderful dream last night. My dream was that Colorado hired former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell as its new fearless leader. Well, low and behold, my dream came true! So, who doesn’t believe in fate? That being said, the Buffaloes have lost too much from 2019 like former quarterback Steve Montez and super athletic receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who when healthy was a gamebreaker. It figures that somewhat sophomore experienced QB Blake Stenstrom, who played in the second half of the Trojans squeaker in Boulder, is the likely starter unless its junior Tyler Lytle Jr. But the game ain’t being played in Boulder. Add to the fact that the other Buffaloes’ dependable receiver Tony Brown has also departed, and Mr. Karl has his work cut out for himself.

Look who’s back to be the first-year head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. It’s former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell (photo above) who was last seen in these parts after suffering another loss to the Trojans.

The Trojans’ defense should be rolling by this point in the season, having three games under first-year DC Todd Orlando. Sure, Colorado returns eight players on defense, but the Buffs allowed 31.8 points per game last season, which should give extreme confidence to the Trojans high-powered passing offense. By this time, we should know if the Trojans have a complimentary rushing attack. Let us hope so.   

The O/NSO pessimist: Sure, the Trojans are facing a team coached by Karl Dorrell and haven’t forgotten he was canned by UCLA before heading off to the NFL. However, it would be unwise to think that Dorrell isn’t a better coach, learning new NFL concepts and now a chance to redeem himself. Let’s face it, Dorrell really has nothing to lose, and sometimes those are the worst coaches to face. Being it’s his first season, he can let it all hang out. I noticed, Mr. Optimist, you were downplaying Colorado QB Blade Stenstrom; I wouldn’t advise it. The kid has played against the Trojans before – like last season – and the intimidation factor is probably low level. And let’s remember, there won’t be any fans in the Coliseum stands, which is another great equalizer.

Yes, the Buff’s defense could be vulnerable again to the Trojans’ offense, but they do possess two standouts in senior linebacker Nate Landman and senior defensive end Mustafa Johnson, both studs up front, so the Trojans offensive line will be yet tested again. And let’s not forget that last season’s USC hero over Colorado, wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., is now in the NFL. No doubt the Buffs will be motivated after the Trojans escaped the mountain state with a tough 35-31 victory.    

Colorado has to be thrilled to know that former Trojans wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (photo above – No. 6) is now playing with the Indianapolis Colts. (Photo by Laura Domingue)

The O/NSO realist: Well, to be honest, Colorado might be a better team down the line, but it ain’t happening in this crazy 2020 season. Karl Dorrell doesn’t have enough firepower to stop the Trojans’ offense, and Trojans’ OC Graham Harrell will unleash the wrath of his offense as the Men of Troy turn the corner in pursuit of a Pac-12 South Division title. As for Colorado’s offense, it remains to be seen if they can muster enough firepower to compete with an improving and talented USC defense. It won’t be easy early, but a blowout wouldn’t be out of the question.   

The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Colorado 20

The Obvious Game 5 – Washington State (2019 record 6- 7, 3-6 Pac-12)/ Ret. Off. 6 Def. 8, SPT. placekicker 1, punter 1).

The Trojans play WSU on Friday night, Dec. 4, in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Kickoff time TBD/TV FS1).

The Washington State Cougars will visit an empty Coliseum (photo above) for a Friday night game with the Trojans on Dec. 4, which may or may not help the Cougars, who figure to be heavy underdogs.

The Not So Obvious Washington State game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: To be honest, fans not having to travel to the Coliseum on a Friday night is a good thing, especially if the kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Getting home late night isn’t exactly a rewarding experience – even with a USC victory. That being said, Washington State has a new head coach in Nick Rolovich, so the Trojans will get another first-year punching bag for Clay Helton to toy with. You have to admit, Helton has lived a charmed life in his 10 seasons as a Trojans assistant, interim head coach, and as a permanent head coach. The man makes a reported $5 million dollars a season, so the football gods have been kind to him. However, I digress.

Look, Mike Leach, WSU’s genius of the real Air Raid offense is gone and now resides at Mississippi State, and while Rolovich, the former Hawaii head man, knows the run-and- shoot offense like the back of his hand, it still gets down to talent running the system. Do the Cougs have any? We do know Rolovich will be breaking in a new quarterback, which figures to be sophomore Cammon Cooper. And remember, the Cougars will still be breaking in a new defensive coordinator in Jake Dickert, who likes the 4-2-5 scheme, which shouldn’t surprise the Trojans. Everybody does it. The Trojans’ defensive front of Marlon Tuipulotu and Drake Jackson figure to put heavy pressure on whomever the WSU quarterback is.      

Junior defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu (photo above – No. 51), who has changed his number to No. 93, figures to do a number on Washington State quarterbacks.

The O/NSO pessimist: It’s a Friday night game with nobody in the stands. That should really intimidate the Cougars…not. Maybe because the game is on national television, some of the Cougars will also get tight sphincters, but in this ghost town of a giant stadium, being on TV will probably not be a major factor. It’s common knowledge that the new WSU coach is a run-and-gun offensive genius. He actually has a stud running back in junior Max Borghi, so there is a threat of a running game. However, you know what’s scary? The fact the Trojans knew what to expect from a Mike Leach offense, but in Rolovich, there’s still some intrigue.

Now, I realize that the disparity in talent between USC/WSU is major, but we all thought the same thing when the Trojans were once 41-point favorites over an inferior talented Stanford team, and Pete Carroll’s team still lost in the Coli. Anything can happen, and some would say that if there is a team coached by Helton, anything is possible, which isn’t a nice thing to say, but it does make one a little more cautious regardless of the anticipated large point-spread.   

Former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll (photo above) can tell you all about being on the short end of a huge upset. Before Clay Helton’s Trojans get too confident against the 2020 Washington State Cougars, Carroll can speak to the 2007 game against Stanford in the Coliseum when the Trojans lost, 24-23, to the 41-point underdog Cardinal.

The O/NSO realist: Games are not won on paper. Everybody knows that old cliché, but Friday night games can be unpredictable. It’s not like Washington State hasn’t come into the Coliseum and made the Trojans work before. However, this won’t be the year…if the Trojans are still undefeated and can see a Pac-12 South Division title in site. Then again, if the Men of Troy are chasing someone like ASU and needing help, the chances of being upset by WSU are there but still highly remote. Honestly, this game should be a rout, unless the Trojans are looking ahead to UCLA.   

The O/NSO prediction: USC 48 / WSU 17

The Obvious Game 6 – At UCLA (2019 record – 4-8 overall, 4-5 Pac-12)/ Ret. Off. 5, Def. 4, SPT. placekicker 1, punter 1).

It’s college football’s greatest intercity rivalry, as the Trojans face the Bruins in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, on Saturday, Dec. 12 (Kickoff/ TV TBD).

With no fans in the stands, the Rose Bowl (photo above) will have a different look and feel when the Trojans travel to Pasadena to play crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday, Dec. 12.

The Not So Obvious UCLA game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: We own these guys. When was the last time these guys beat the good guys? Well, it doesn’t matter if this season’s game is being played in the Rose Bowl or in the Coliseum, the Bruins are dead meat. By this time, UCLA fans will appreciate not having to decide whether to go to the game or watch it on television. They’ll be thinking about men’s basketball anyway. No doubt, this Bruins football team will be struggling to stay afloat, and questions about Chip Kelly’s future will have been the topic for many of the past weeks in Westwood. Sure, the Bruins have some talent, and that’s their problem – “some” talent.

If you weren’t happy with last season recruiting by the Trojans, Bruin fans have had that reoccurring recruiting nightmare ever since Kelly was named head coach. You think Trojans fans are stunned with Helton’s $5 million a season? Well, UCLA fans know that another beating by the Trojans, and they will pay anything to get the overpaid former Oregon coaching guru out of Westwood. BTW, it’s possible that UCLA will again have no players on the Pac-12 post-season all-conference first or second team. Zing and ouch!  

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly (photo above) remains under heat after his team lost last season’s rivalry game against the Trojans, 52-35.

The O/NSO pessimist: Oy Veh! The worst thing you can do is talk trash when the Trojans and Bruins get together. I don’t even want to think about all those times when the Cardinal and Gold should have wiped the floor with an underdog UCLA only to see the “latest” upset. Those of you that think this game will be a cakewalk should check your ego at the Rose Bowl entrance. Oh, that’s right, you can’t go to the game anyway. Perhaps you’ve forgotten some no-name UCLA players like Norman Dow and John Barnes, both of whom led the Ruins to conquering the Trojans.

Look, I expect that the Trojans should clean the clock of UCLA, but I know better. As they say, “Past is prologue.” Beware, of UCLA quarterback junior Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He can make the Trojans’ defense pay with his scrambling and athletic ability. Pay no attention to our optimistic USC fan, the Bruins do have a potential all-star in DTR and all-purpose senior performer Demetric Felton is a threat.       

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (photo above) is the type of mobile quarterback that has given USC defenses fits in the past.

The O/NSO realist: The Bruins are positioned this season to be better. However, UCLA was given no favors with its one out-of-division game being the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. That, however, may have been a difference had the Bruins played the Trojans after the Ducks. No, UCLA is playing in Eugene the second game of the season. I am never quite sure if there is a home field advantage in this crosstown rivalry because even in the Coliseum or Rose Bowl, fans of both teams normally show up. With no fans in the stands this season, this game should just come down to plain old desire.

So, if the Cardinal and Gold need one more win to capture the Pac-12 South, you know Helton’s men will come to play. Even if they don’t have a chance at a divisional title, it’s still the Bruins. Of course, the Trojans could feel pressure to compete if the division championship is at stake. If the game goes into the final quarter and is up for grabs, the fear of failure could become a factor. However, it doesn’t figure to happen, but Clay Helton will be under pressure to make sure it doesn’t happen. This could also be the game that Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis wraps up being the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, but a negative outcome could lead to Gentleman Clay being on the hot seat – again, which also means USC president Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn could again take their own reluctant centerstage. Bottom line: The Bruins will upset the Trojans at some point, it just won’t be this season.

Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above on left) and USC president Carol Folt (photo above on right) are hoping that Trojans head coach Clay Helton has a successful season, which depends on your definition of a successful season.

The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, UCLA 24

The Obvious Game 7 – Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon (6-0) vs USC (6-0).

The Trojans and the Ducks will play against each other on Friday, Dec. 18, at a home location to be determined. The title game will be televised nationally on FOX and the exact kickoff time will be announced at a later time.

The Not So Obvious Oregon game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: Oh, baby, it’s time for some serious revenge after the Ducks got “lucky” last season in their 56-24 victory over the Trojans in the Coli. Well, this time the Trojans have the edge at quarterback since the Ducks departed quarterback Justin Herbert now draws a paycheck with the LA Chargers, and don’t forget the O’s offensive line will be missing Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell, who left early in the fall for the NFL spring draft. And more good news, the Ducks have had to replace much of last season’ physical and veteran offensive line. For what it’s worth, the Ducks have new coordinators on both sides of the ball – OC Joe Moorhead and DC Andy Avolos.

Sure the Duckies defensive has some “so-called” stars in freshman linebacker Justin Flowe, sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, and senior corner Deommodore Lenoir, but this time the Trojans’ offensive line is ready to dish out some punishment. Ha, no doubt this will be a physical game, but this time the Trojans are ready for it. Try stopping Kedon Slovis and his NFL-bound receivers, and we think you’re going to be surprised by the Trojans running attack, which should get your defense honest. Yeah, this is the game that Trojans’ big sophomore running back Markese Stepp is a difference-maker and will compliment senior Stephen Carr.

No doubt that Trojans sophomore QB star Kedon Slovis (photo above) will be ready to dissect the Oregon secondary if he gets the opportunity in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

The O/NSO pessimist: With all due respect, Mr. Optimist, you’re missing a reality check. The Ducks will be the more physical team, and they have a difference-maker in junior running back CJ Verdell, who is back after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Never heard of their redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Shough, don’t matter. He’ll get the job done. The Ducks’ defense is full of former Trojans ex-recruits or have you forgotten sophomore Kayvon Thibodeaux or linebacker Justin Flowe, two local SoCal studs? And remember, the Ducks return a large number of lads that held the Trojans Air Raid offense to 24 points

You really think the Trojans are going to be more physical than the Ducks? You’re out of your gourd, no chance, dude. Maybe you’ve forgotten last season’s game in the Coli, 56-24. That was no fluke, my friend. That was a royal ass-kicking reality check. We’ll see if Kedon Slovis even lasts a half if he takes one too many sacks from the vaunted and talented Oregon defense. I don’t care about the previous six games with the Trojans’ offensive line; this will be the acid test and get ready to call 911.

A major challenge for the Trojans’ offensive line is controlling Ducks super sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (photo above – No. 5).

The O/NSO realist: And now for a sane mind to speak truth to power. If the game was being played at Autzen Stadium with a full house of fans, the Trojans would be the underdog, no doubt. However, if the Ducks are the home team for the championship game and there are no fans, it’s like going into a haunted house with the indoor lights all turned on.

For the Trojans to win the title, offensively they can’t have turnovers by interceptions or fumbles. OC Graham Harrell must establish a running game or the Ducks defensive front will make it a long day for Mr. Slovis. Defensively, Trojans DC Todd Orlando will have to work his magic against a balanced Oregon attack, although the Ducks had to replace virtually their entire offensive line from last season and will greatly miss AA OT Penei Sewell. That being said, whoever is the more physical team on both sides of the line of scrimmage will probably win the whole darn thing. Of course, then there is the matchup of head coaches – Oregon’s Mario Cristobal and the Trojans Clay Helton. Keep in mind that Cristobal is the former offensive line coach at Alabama under Nick Saban while Helton is the former quarterbacks coach under former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin.

This is a title game in which the Trojans’ special teams, namely sophomore punter Ben Griffiths, could play a major role in field position. No shock either if USC placekicker Chase McGrath works his magic with that accurate leg.

If the Trojans must play the Pac-12 Championship Game at Oregon’s intimidating Autzen Stadium (photo above), it will be a lot less intimidating with no fans in the stands.

The O/NSO prediction: USC 34, Oregon 31

The Obvious: And finally, if the Trojans defeat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and finish 7-0, they will have to wait to see if they will be invited to one of the College Football Playoffs semi-final games, which will be played in either the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl.

The Not So Obvious: For the Trojans to play in the Rose Bowl, it would figure that Ohio State would have to be the No. 1 seed with the thought that the Trojans would be the No. 4 seed. If Clemson or Alabama are the No. 1 seed, the Trojans would likely head to the Sugar Bowl.

If the Trojans are not invited to the College Football Playoffs, the O/NSO sees them playing in the Fiesta Bowl. All of which returns us to ask the original question: Will the Men of Troy join the Dodgers and Lakers in a championship year to remember? We’re about to find out.

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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