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O/NSO: 2020 schedule – good news/bad news edition – Part 1

The Obvious: The USC Trojans recently released their 2020 schedule, and it appears to be full of challenges – but we seem to say that every year. The biggest challenge for next season, however, could be how the Trojans handle a slate of games that appear to have a roller coaster of advantages and disadvantages with a handful of exceptions.

The Not So Obvious: Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the 2020 schedule is that the Trojans never play consecutive home or road games, the first time since 1969. The Trojans’ 2020 schedule features seven teams that played in bowl games this past season, with six winning their bowl.  Seven of the Trojans’ opponents won at least eight games last season. If you needed some more convincing that that 2020 could present challenges along the way, five of Troy’s home opponents won bowls and four had at least eight victories last year. Yikes! However, there is always good and bad news when it comes to scheduling, and the O/NSO is happy to provide you with both sides of the proverbial coin with a few tidbits tossed in here and there. So, here is Part 1 of the 2020 Trojans schedule, and it’s way too early to start making predictions:

The Obvious schedule good news – Game 1 – Alabama (2019: 11-2 overall, 6-2 SEC West) – Sept. 5: On national television for all to see,the Trojans open the 2020 season in the AdvoCare Classic against Alabama, which figures to be ranked in the nation’s Top 3. The collision of the two storied programs will again be played in intimidating AT&T Stadium (photo above) in Arlington, Tcxas. A mighty upset here by the Men of Troy in front of the nation would be a gold mine in terms of a positive perception for Clay Helton’s USC program. The Tide won’t have superstar quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has gone early to the NFL, and Tui will have company with the likes of talented receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs lll, offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, linebacker Terrell Lewis, and safety Xavier McKinney. And who knows who will be the starting quarterback for Nick Saban? The Trojans should at least be equal to the Tide in the QB department with “veteran” Kedon Slovis returning for his sophomore campaign.   

The Not So Obvious schedule bad news: On national television for all to see,the Trojans play Alabama on nationwide television and a devastating loss – while maybe not unexpected – will be painful evidence the old Trojans ain’t what they used to be. It’s safe to say that when the Trojans’ athletic department brass elected to play the Crimson Tide again – a team that thrashed the Men of Troy, 52-6, back in 2016 in Clay Helton’s debut, the wishful thinkers were expecting or hoping that Helton’s program would be heading into its fifth season now among the elite of college football. Honestly, whoever scheduled this rematch should be fired. Oh, you say that has already taken place? Now for the reality check in playing Alabama in 2020. The Tide returns all-star junior running back Nagee Harris and a future NFL first-round draft pick in offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, once a USC recruit as was Harris. Both Harris and Leatherwood were candidates to depart early for the NFL but decided otherwise. Junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith has also elected to return to Tuscaloosa, as well, and he is a good one. And did we mention all-star linebacker Dylan Moses will return for his senior season after missing his junior campaign (knee).  

Whose idea was it to schedule Alabama to start the 2020 season? Could it be one of those USC administrators that was fired recently? Then again, maybe Clay Helton Year 5 wasn’t supposed to be in such turmoil at this point.

The Obvious schedule good news – Game 2 – New Mexico (2019: 2-10 overall, 0-8 MWC) – Sept. 12: It’s always good news to open your home season against such a powerhouse like the New Mexico Lobos (cough, cough), who were an impressive 2-10 last season. The good news is that there should be plenty of seats available for the game against the Lobos, who will be playing the Trojans for the first time. FYI, New Mexico plays in the Mountain West Conference for those that don’t follow Lobos football. It will also be the debut for new New Mexico head coach Danny Gonzalez, which should provide whatever intrigue there is to this “exhibition” game. For those that love a good story, Gonzalez is a native of Albuquerque who played at local Valley High School. Yes, old Danny, is former Lobos player, staff member, and assistant coach. There is a bit of a Pac-12 touch since Gonzalez spent the past two seasons at ASU working for Herm Edwards as the Sun Devils’ defensive coordinator.    

The Not So Obvious schedule bad news: It’s possible that the turnout for the Trojans first home game of 2020 could be nothing short of embarrassing. Why? It’s possible the Men of Troy could be in the midst of a two-game losing streak dating back to its loss to Iowa in the 2019 SDCCU Holiday Bowl and the distinct possibility of being dismantled by Alabama in the 2020 opener. Sure, New Mexico figures to be a tomato can game for the Trojans, but Gonzalez’s offense will present the dreaded RPO with various forms of the option from week to week sprinkled in. And remember, that new coach Gonzalez – by virtue of having been the DC at ASU – will be familiar with the USC offensive personnel and Graham Harrell’s air raid attack in particular. Oh, and FYI, the week prior to the Lobos facing the Trojans’ vaunted air raid offense, New Mexico will play at Mississippi State with new coach Mike Leach, he of former Washington State coaching and air raid fame.   

It figures that USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (photo above) should have a field day against New Mexico and its questionable defense in the Coliseum home opener.

The Obvious schedule good news – Game 3 – at Stanford (2019: 4-8 overall, 3-6 Pac-12 North/ USC 45, Stanford 20) – Sept. 19: It only seems like half the Cardinal team has put their names in the NCAA Transfer Portal (15) – including QB KJ Costello – and those that didn’t, put their names  in the early entry for the spring NFL draft. For those keeping score, the Cardinal lost headliner tight end Colby Parkinson to the NFL draft. Stanford is coming off a lousy season and could be a mystery team. Once again, the Trojans and Stanford will open the Pac-12 Conference season against each other, but this time it’s in unintimidating Stanford Stadium. It figures that if the Trojans can come into the Bay Area Weekender no worse than 1-1 on the season, cardinal and gold fans will be there. No love lost between the two private universities. And, hey, since when is a weekend in San Francisco a bad thing, especially in late September?

The Not So Obvious schedule bad news: Many of those Cardinal players that went to the NCAA Transfer Portal did so in order to get into a graduate school, so it wasn’t mutiny on the bounty. In fact, head coach David Shaw was reportedly encouraging players that needed to get into a grad school to enter the portal. Stanford did, however, get some good news in learning that star offensive tackle Walker Little was returning to play another campaign on the “The Farm.” Speaking of offensive linemen, the Cardinal played a plethora of freshmen O-line prospects in 2019, and it appears that the early dipping will challenge the Trojans’ defensive front. Bottom line: Six All-Pac-12 performers return for the Cardinal, highlighted by two-time All-Pac-12 first team DB honoree Paulson Adebo. Offensively, Stanford returns QB Davis Mills and receivers Michael Wilson, Simi Fehoko and Osiris St. Brown, brother of the Trojans Amon-Ra. Don’t underestimate Stanford coach Shaw to give the Trojans a real tough time.

What surprises will Stanford head coach David Shaw (photo above) have in store for the Trojans when they travel to Palo Alto to play the Cardinal in the Pac-12 opener for both teams on Sept. 19?

The Obvious schedule good news – Game 4 – Arizona State (2019: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12 South/ USC 31, ASU 26) – Sept 26: Yes, the good news is that standout ASU TB Eno Benjamin and P Michael Turk are off to the NFL early. Eight Sun Devils have also applied for the NCAA Transfer Portal, including quarterback Joey Yellen, who started against the Trojans last season and is headed to Pitt for 2020. ASU head coach Herm Edwards didn’t like what some of his 2019 coaching staff produced and promptly got rid of the bulk of his offensive staff, namely OC/QB coach Rob Likens, WR coach Charlie Fisher, and tight end coach Donnie Yantis. FYI, the Sun Devils will host physical BYU the week before traveling to L.A. to play the Trojans. If the Trojans win this one against ASU, they take the early inside track in the Pac-12 South Division championship race, but don’t tell Utah. BTW, to add to the Sun Devils’ offensive woes, wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Kyle Williams are out of eligibility. And defensively, the Sun Devils will have a new DC in current ASU CB coach Tony White, a promotion from within the ASU staff.

The Not So Obvious schedule bad news: It’s possible that ASU will come into the Coliseum at 3-0 (Northern Arizona, at UNLV, BYU). No longer is anybody laughing at ASU’s selection of Herm Edwards as the Sun Devils’ head coach. Remember when Herm was the butt of Pac-12 hiring jokes? Certainly, the fired 2019 offensive members of Edwards’ staff know he means business. For the Trojans, they will probably have to face ASU freshman quarterback sensation Jayden Daniels, who missed last season’s game against the Trojans in Tempe, a thrilling contest the Trojans had to hold on to win, 31-26. Some say that QB Daniels is even better than Kedon Slovis, the 2019 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Yes, Daniels is that good. With such an important game in the Pac-12 South Division, if the Trojans lose this one, they will be playing catch-up in the Pac-12 South Division championship run. However, ASU will have to play at Oregon in a Friday night affair on Nov. 13, which is actually good news for the Trojans. 

It figures that when the Trojans host Arizona State on Sept. 26, the winner will have the early inside track to the Pac-12 South Division title. Trojans standout receiver Drake London (photo above – No. 15) will again try to high-point the ASU defenders and lead the Trojans to another victory over the Sun Devils. (Photo by John Hays)

The Obvious schedule good news – Game 5 – at Utah (2019: 11-3 overall, 8-1 Pac-12 South/ USC 30, Utah 23) – Oct. 2: Yeah, the Utes will be tough to beat in Salt Lake City, but things are looking up considering that Utah has graduated talented quarterback Tyler Huntley and star running back Zack Moss, the best in the Pac-12 last season. Add to the departed list early NFL entries like defensive backs Javelin Guidry and Jaylon Johnson, and you can see there are holes to patch up in SLC. That should be music to the ears of Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis, who missed last season’s game with the Utes due to a concussion but will have an array of all-star receivers to target this season. What should also be good news for Slovis is that Utes’ star defensive end Bradlee Anae, the sack machine, is no longer with Utah after having graduated.

The Not So Obvious schedule bad news: This will be a Friday night game in Salt Lake City, and we all know that Pac-12 road teams playing on Friday night tend to return home with a loss. Knowing that the Utes are well-coached and are now running a real program – thanks to head coach Kyle Whittingham – they seem to have solved the transfer game and the NCAA Transfer Portal. Heading the Utah list of potential game-changers in 2020 are a pair of quarterback transfers in Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Cameron Rising (Texas). And the Utes return four of five starting offensive linemen. As usual, the Utes defensively will be physical and disciplined up front, and who knows what will happen when they face a Trojans’ O-line that is replacing both starting tackles. Normally a Friday night game in Rice-Eccles Stadium is a major challenge and knowing the game will be on national television, the rabid Utah student body (MUSS) will be ready to rock and roll.   

Playing Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium (photo above) is always a challenge, but it is even more so in 2020 because the game is being played on Friday night, Oct. 2.

The Obvious schedule good news – Game 6 – Cal (2019: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12 North/ USC 41, Cal 17) – Oct. 10: Last season, the Trojans went up to Berkeley and dominated the Golden Bears, 41-17. In 2020, Cal’s once stout defense from 2019 will need to fill some big shoes, which includes all-everything LB Evan Weaver, now on his way to the NFL. Losing Weaver is great news for the Trojans’ offense since the guy was a freaking wrecking force! This will be the Bears second trip to the Coliseum within the past three seasons, and many on the Trojans’ roster remember with pain when the Bears upset the Trojans, 15-14, in 2018, so this is kind of the rubber match for Cal’s third-year coach Justin Wilcox, the former beleaguered USC DC. As a sidebar, it may not be good or bad news for the Trojans, but the Bears will start 2020 at UNLV in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Aug. 29 matchup will be the first college football game in the new domed NFL stadium. FYI, Allegiant Stadium is also the new home of the Pac-12 Football Championship Game, which will be played on Friday, Dec. 4.

The Not So Obvious schedule bad news: No Bears went early into the NFL draft, and five are now in the NCAA Transfer portal. The Trojans caught a break last season in their lashing of Cal up in Berkeley. Quarterback Chase Garbers was coming off an injury (shoulder) and proceeded to get injured again in the first half of the USC game, and down went the Cal offense. Garbers, however, will return to 2020, which means the Bears offense should be in better shape this time around. The Bears also have a new offensive coordinator in veteran caller Bill Musgrave, the old former University of Oregon QB star. Now, besides the return of Garbers on offense, the Bears also return RB Chris Brown and top WR Nikko Remigio. Even without all-star linebacker Weaver, linebacker Kuony Deng and cornerback Camryn Bynum return to the Pac-12 wars, and both are two of the Pac-12’s top defenders going into 2020.

The Trojans will be trying to block out the memories of the 2018 Cal game when the Bears pulled the upset in the Coliseum (photo above), 15-14, in head coach Justin Wilcox, the former SC DC, first season with the Bears.

The Obvious: And finally, the good news in the first half of the 2020 schedule, the Trojans can almost win every game.

The Not So Obvious: Okay, so we were being a little optimistic. The bad news is that the Trojans won’t win every game, thanks to some ill-advised scheduling of Alabama in the season opener. Next Friday, Part – 2 of the 2020 schedule.

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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