20 min Read

O/NSO: Ranking the 2019 USC home games edition

The Obvious: The 2019 USC Trojans will host six opponents in the newly renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious:  Last week, we ranked the 2019 USC road trips for you, so now it’s seems like fair play to do the same with the Coliseum home games, which include Fresno State, Stanford, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA.  As the O/NSO did with road games, we’ll list the home games as worst to first rather than opponents in their calendar order. Same rules apply as to the road game rankings, consider a “6” as “fugetaboutit” and just watch it on TV to a “1” being nirvana. Okay, let’s start with some basic USC home game information:

Location: Los Angeles

Stadium: Memorial Coliseum
Capacity: 77,500
Seating Chart: www.lacoliseum.com
Tickets: 213-740-GOSC (4672)

Now, let’s get to the rankings.

RANKING: NO. 6

The Obvious: GAME No. 1 – FRESNO STATE/SEPT. 31/KICKOFF TIME: 7:30 p.m. PDT/10:30 p.m. EDT/ESPN

The Not So Obvious game information:

FSU head coach: Jeff Tedford (3rd year, 22-6)

Conference: Mountain West

2018 Record: 12-2, 7-1 MWC

2018 score against the Trojans: Did not play

2018 Bowl Game: Defeated Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl

Returning offensive starters: 2

Returning defensive starters: 6

Projected L.A. August Weather Forecast: High of 90 and low of 66

The Trojans will open the season against Fresno State on Aug. 31, which will also be the grand opening of the renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Pros: There is always the first-game excitement to any season, but this season, along with the new Coliseum renovation, there are a lot of interesting and provocative questions. Will Graham Harrell’s offense execute and excite the masses? Who will be the starting USC quarterback? Will the defensive secondary under DC Clancy Pendergast and secondary coach Greg Burns hold its own against a Fresno State offense that while rebuilding expose where the SC defense is at? Fans will be encouraged if they see a disciplined USC team and a well-executed first game. It figures that just from a comfort aspect, fans will like their new cardinal Coliseum seats.

Cons: The very first thing that Trojans fans will notice is the completed Scholarship Tower and how it dwarfs the rest of the Coliseum, and let’s not forget any new parking issues and money charges. Then will come the reality of where you’re now seated compared to where you were once seated (pass the Kleenex). If the Trojans don’t look good in beating the Bulldogs, you will hear the fan’s disgust as Clay Helton walks up the Coli tunnel after the game. The Trojans couldn’t lose their home opener, could they?

Comments:  One thing for sure, this first game is going to have a lot of intrigue and scrutiny. You can also bet that Fresno State will bring thousands and thousands of fans to support their Bulldogs. And, BTW, what will the attendance be after an off-season of controversy and scrutiny and kickoff being a late night game, which should capture the imagination of the entire Eastern seaboard? Hey, the game is on ESPN so folks are conditioned to watch a Pac-12 team, especially the Trojans. Right?

No matter how many times you’ve been to the Coliseum, it’s always exciting when the Trojans come out of the famous Coliseum tunnel to take the field right before kickoff.

RANKING: NO. 5

The Obvious: GAME No. 7– ARIZONA/OCT. 19/KICKOFF (TBD)

The Not So Obvious game information:  

Head coach: Kevin Sumlin (2nd season, 5-7)

Conference: Pac-12 South

2018 Record: 5-7, 4-5 Pac-12

2018 score against the Trojans: USC 24, Arizona 20

2018 Bowl Game: Did not participate

Returning offensive starters: 8

Returning defensive starters: 6

Projected Los Angeles October Weather Forecast: High of 82, low of 59

It figures that Arizona, which will have a large number of Southern Californians on their roster, will come to play against the Trojans after their narrow 24-20 loss to the Men of Troy last season in Tucson.

Pros: This game opens the second half of the season, and if the Trojans are doing well, it figures that the Coliseum could be into this South Division tussle. Like we said, IF the Men of troy are doing well. Come on, isn’t Arizona always a given win in Los Angeles no matter the issues? The Trojans will be ready for the Arizona offense, and there is no way that the Wildcats are going to be able to score at will.

Cons: First, let’s get this out now. Arizona’s dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate is back, and he’s an electric game-changing signal-caller. Is Clay Helton still the head coach and how does his future affect the balance of the season if he isn’t? What happens if the offense still has growing pains, and fans become restless and want to go back to their balanced tailback heritage – not to mention their original pre-renovation Coli seats ? What will the Trojans’ home attendance against the Wildcats be if the Cardinal and Gold have a losing record? Yikes!

Comments: Much of the focus on Clay Helton and the program will center on what is the team’s record prior to the Arizona game. Man alive, so many “what-if” questions.

Have you gotten use to the United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum naming?

RANKING: NO. 4

The Obvious: GAME No. 4 – STANFORD/SEPT. 7/KICKOFF 7:30 P.M. PDT/10:30 P.M. EDT/ESPN

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: David Shaw (9th season, 82-26)

Conference: Pac-12 North

2018 Record: 9-4, 6-3 Pac-12

2018 score against the Trojans: Stanford 17, USC 3

2018 Bowl Game: Defeated Pittsburgh, 14-13, in the Sun Bowl

Returning offensive starters: 3

Returning defensive starters: 5

Projected L.A. September Weather Forecast: High of 88, low of 64

It figures that the Stanford Cardinal will severely test the Trojans in the Pac-12 opener for both teams on Sept. 7.

Pros: If you want to look at this Pac-12 opener for both teams as the first true gut-check, you’re probably spot-on. After having opened up against Fresno State, the Trojans won’t have time for a “let down” from the opening game of the season. The Men of Troy should be severely tested by the Cardinal, and after this game, we should have an idea of what direction Helton’s team is headed, which is a good thing…if the Cardinal and Gold win. 

Cons: Who knows who the Trojans’ quarterback will be when they kick off against the Cardinal. Whoever starts will be based on how last week’s QB performed. What we do know is that this figures to be a game where Stanford junior quarterback KJ Costello severely tests the Trojans’ youthful and inexperienced secondary. Then there is the question of physicality and will the locals be able to slug it out with Stanford? We’ll see how the new strength and conditioning program under new S&C coach Aaron Ausmus is tested by the lads from Palo Alto.

Comments: A victory over Stanford at home would do wonders for the confidence and the stability of not only the team but for Clay Helton’s job. Of course, a loss could set in motion all sorts of ghoulish thoughts, and we’re not even close to Halloween. If anything, this will be a very early benchmark game, and it should be interesting to see what the attendance will be, especially if the Trojans looked good the week before against Fresno State.   

No matter how the Trojans’ season unfolds in 2019, you can always count on the USC Song Girls performing in the Coliseum.

RANKING: NO. 3  

The Obvious: GAME No. 12– UCLA/NOV. 23/KICKOFF TBD

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: Chip Kelly (2nd season, 3-9)

Conference: Pac-12 South

2018 Record: 3-9, 3-6 Pac-12

2018 score against the Trojans: UCLA 34, USC 27

2018 Bowl Game: Did not participate

Returning offensive starters: 8

Returning defensive starters: 9

Projected L.A. November Weather Forecast: High of 74, low of 52

The Trojans will be looking to snap a one-game losing streak to the Bruins and get possession of the Victory Bell.

Pros: This rivalry game will give the Trojans a chance to avenge last season’s embarrassing 34-27 loss to the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans’ quarterbacking situation should be more than stabilized, and this being the last game of the regular season, the Trojans could be in a position to attain a major bowl game bid, provided they have had seasonal success in Pac-12 play.

Cons: Again, we don’t know if Clay Helton is still be the coach. If things are in real flux, it will take a united team to defeat the Bruins, who figure to come to the Coliseum already brimming with confidence. With the Trojans hosting their biggest recruiting turnout of prep stars in attendance, a loss would be two in row to the Bruins in front of a large high school gathering, which means – especially in the Coliseum – trouble.  

Comments: By the time the Trojans will have battled the Bruins, they’ll have played 11 previous games. The Trojans figure to be what they are and no excuses to the contrary. It also figures that we’ll have a clear idea of Clay Helton’s future if he is still the coach. This crosstown rivalry game always has something on the line, and this particular game will have its own set of criteria. A winning record could be in order, and so could a bowl invitation in a worst-case scenario. If both teams are hurting and going nowhere, the highlight of this game is that it’s still USC vs UCLA and that will always warrant interest.

This will be the last season that legendary USC Marching Band director Dr. Arthur C. Bartner leads his nationally acclaimed band onto the Coliseum turf for pregame, halftime, and post-game performances. Enjoy it while the good doctor makes his final appearances.

RANKING: N0. 2

The Obvious: GAME No. 9 – OREGON/NOV. 2/KICKOFF TBD

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: Mario Cristobal (2nd year, 9-5)

Conference: Pac-12 North

2018 Record: 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12

2018 score against the Trojans: Did not play

2018 Bowl Game: Defeated Michigan St., 7-6, in the Redbox Bowl

Returning offensive starters: 12

Returning defensive starters: 7

Projected L.A. November Weather Forecast: High of 74, low of 52

It’s been quite awhile since the Trojans have played the Oregon Ducks, and this season’s game in the Coliseum on Oct. 19 should be a good one since the Ducks are picked by some to win the conference.

Pros: The last time the Trojans played the Oregon Ducks was 2016, and the Men of Troy came away with a big 45-20 victory. Providing the Trojans are still in the hunt for a Pac-12 South title and the fact that Oregon is expected to be a frontrunner for a Pac-12 North title, this could have championship game implications. Some good news is that the Trojans will have had an extra day of rest in preparation of this biggie, having played the previous week in a Friday night game at Colorado.

Cons: This is not your Chip Kelly’s Ducks, but it is Mario Cristobal’s mallards. They are still talented and may have the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in senior quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert is Oregon’s version of Sam Darnold, and that in itself spells big trouble for the USC defense, especially for the Trojans’ youthful secondary. The Ducks’ offense figures to be the ultimate test for the Trojans’ defense.

Comments: Not only is this the second best home game in terms of challenges and importance, but a Trojans’ victory will send a message to all the recruits that are paying attention – either in person or watching on TV. Depending on where the Trojans are in the Pac-12 South standings, a win here could put them in position to win the South depending how Utah is doing.

The Trojans will host Utah on a Friday night (6 p.m. PDT), Sept. 20, in the Coliseum, and that could make the weekend getaway traffic even more frustrating than ever. The game might also be for the Pac-12 South title in the big picture.

RANKING: NO. 1

THE OBVIOUS: RANKING: NO. 1 – UTAH/Sept. 20/KICKOFF 6 P.M. PDT/9 P.M. EDT

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: Kyle Whittingham (15th season, 120-61)

Conference: Pac-12 South

2018 Record: 9-5, 6-3 Pac-12

2018 score against the Trojans: Utah 41, USC 28

2018 Bowl Game: Lost, 31-20, to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl

Returning offensive starters: 8

Returning defensive starters: 7

Projected L.A. September Weather Forecast: High of 88, low of 64

There will be plenty of physical play when the Trojans host Utah in a nationally televised game in the Coliseum. The Trojans will be looking to avenge last season’s 41-28 loss to the Utes in Salt Lake City. On paper, this is USC’s most attractive home game because of the opponent and its importance.

Pros: A win over the Utes will probably put the Trojans in the Pac-12-South driver’s seat. It won’t be easy, but in terms of importance for the future of the Trojans and Clay Helton’s future, it doesn’t get any better or more important than this. If the Trojans can make a dent in Utah’s vaunted physical and experienced defense, it will be quite an accomplishment. One thing to keep in mind, Utah is historically not the same team when the play on the road. Oh, the Utes’ offensive line is really suspect having sustained major graduation losses.

Cons: The Trojans have been challenged by Utah’s defenses in the past, and this could be the Utes best since Kyle Whittingham became the head coach. The Trojans not only have to contend with what experts believe is one of the top defensive lines in the nation, but the Utes’ offense returns senior QB Tyler Huntley and senior running back Zack Moss, who is one of the conference’s best. The Trojans defense, which gave up 41 points last season to Utah, will have to be at its best even with a home field advantage.

Comments: In the opinion of the O/NSO, this is the best and most important home game on the Trojans’ schedule. At this point in the season, this is a directional game. Either Clay Helton’s team rises to the occasion and gets a grip on the Pac-12 South standings or it could be the departure point of again not fulfilling any dreams of a Pac-12 title – not to mention Clay Helton’s future as head coach.

The Trojans will be hoping their showdown with Utah, which figures to be a close game, will reflect this Coliseum scoreboard memory of the two rivals.

The Obvious: So, there you have it, the O/NSO rankings of the six Coliseum home games.

The Not So Obvious: From the renovated Coliseum to playing some huge games at the legendary venue, the home schedule could be a launching point for a successful season or an attendance graveyard if things unravel as the season progresses. One thing is for sure, the Coliseum will be an interesting cardinal and gold place to be one way or the other.



Greg Katz
Author
Greg Katz

A longtime WeAreSC columnist, Greg began his affiliation with WeAreSC 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 staff writer covering USC, is also is 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 is a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.


More Articles By Greg