28 min Read

O/NSO: Ranking the 2021 USC home games edition

The Obvious: The 2021 USC Trojans will host seven home opponents in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after no live attendance in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Not So Obvious:  Last week, we ranked the 2021 USC road trips for you, so now it’s seems like fair play to do the same with the home games in the Coliseum, which include in order: San Jose State (Sept. 4), Stanford (Sept. 11), Oregon State (Sept. 25), Utah (Oct. 9), Arizona (Oct. 30), UCLA (Nov. 20), and BYU (Nov. 27). 

 

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 “7” as “what’s the point?” and just watch it on TV to a “1” being top shelf – must see. Okay, let’s start with some basic USC home game information:

Location: Los Angeles

Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Capacity: 77,500
Seating Chart: https://aviewfrommyseat.com/venue/Los+Angeles+Memorial+Coliseum/seating-chart/football/
Tickets: 213-740-GOSC (4672)

The empty Coliseum (photo above) will no longer be vacant in 2021 as USC fans will be allowed to return with full capacity.

Now, let’s get to the rankings.

RANKING: NO. 7

The Obvious: In the first game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host San Jose State on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 3, with kickoff time at 2:00 p.m. PT.

The 2020 Mountain West Champion San Jose State Spartans (photo above), coming off a 7-1 2020 season, will open the Trojans home schedule on Sept.3. (Photo by David J. Becker/Getty Images)

The Not So Obvious game information:

SJSU head coach: Brent Brennan (5th year, 15-30)

Conference: Mountain West

2020 Record: 7-1 overall/ MWC 6-0

2020 score against the Trojans: DNP

2020 Bowl Game: Lost to Ball State 34-13 in the Arizona Bowl

Returning offense: 8

Returning defense: 10

Returning Special Teams: Kicker and Punter

San Jose State head coach Brent Brannan (photo above) will be looking to pull the upset when the Spartans take on the Trojans.

Before and after: Before the Trojans and San Jose play in Los Angeles, the Spartans host Southern Utah (Aug. 28). The week following USC/SJS, the Trojans host Stanford (Sept. 11) and San Jose State has a bye.

Projected early L.A. September Weather Forecast: High of 84 and low of 65 degrees

Pros: Since this is the first game of a new season, there should be a natural sense of excitement to see what these 2021 USC Trojans are all about. Given the fact that the Men of Troy did not have fans in the stands last season due to COVID, there should be a lot of initial energy inside the Coli with the return of the USC faithful. This opener should give Clay Helton a chance to get some momentum going for the balance of the season.

Cons: How many fans will actually show up to the game and how many will still have reservations about being in a COVID world of close contact? Since the game is being played at 2 p.m., will fans elect to avoid the early September heat and watch the game on the Pac-12 Networks? Speaking of fans, attendance in the first game could also be foreshadowing fan interest in Clay Helton’s program. As we know, Helton’s teams have had their challenges in season openers and against opponents that were considered moderate to heavy underdogs.  

The Trojans better be ready in the home opener against the surging San Jose State Spartans (photo above), the defending Mountain West champs. (Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Comments:  It would behoove Clay Helton to make sure his team is ready to take San Jose State to the woodshed in the opener. Many are predicting an 8-4 Trojans season, and that probably won’t cut it with the fan base and the athletic administration, although there may be a question about the later. However, if the Trojans are to attain at least eight wins, San Jose State will have to be one of the conquered. This game could be tighter than most cardinal and gold fans would like.  

RANKING: NO. 6

The Obvious: In the eighth game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host Arizona on Saturday, Oct. 30, with the kickoff time TBD.

The Trojans will host Arizona on Saturday, Oct. 30, and the game will also feature Troy’s Homecoming (photo above) festivities, depending on the COVID situation at that time.

 

The Not So Obvious game information:

Arizona head coach: Jedd Fisch (1st year, 0-0)

Conference: Pac-12 South

2020 Record: 1-3 Pac-12

2020 score against the Trojans: USC 34, Arizona 30

2020 Bowl Game: DNP

Returning offense: 8

Returning defense: 6

Returning Special Teams: Kicker and Punter

Arizona will come to the Coliseum under first-year head coach Jedd Fisch (photo above), a former Los Angeles Rams assistant coach.

Before and after: The week before the two teams meet in Los Angeles, the Trojans play at Notre Dame (Oct. 23) and Arizona plays at Washington (Oct. 22-Fri.). The week after USC/UA, the Trojans play at Arizona State (Nov. 6) and Arizona hosts Cal (Nov. 6).  

Projected late L.A. October Weather Forecast: High of 76 and low of 57 degrees

Pros: Since it’s in the middle of the season, the Trojans get a break when Arizona comes to town. The Wildcats are led by a first-year head coach, Jedd Fisch, and a new system, so the Trojans will have an advantage there, although by this time Fisch’s team will have been well scouted. It’s also the Trojans Homecoming Game, so that should inject some added excitement and school spirit to the proceedings. The campus should be alive…if the campus is open depending on COVID local guidelines. 

Cons: Last season, Arizona gave the Trojans everything they could handle in Tucson, and it figures that many of those returning Wildcats, who were part of that 34-30 loss, won’t be intimidated playing the Trojans in the Coliseum. Because Arizona is now being guided under former Los Angeles Rams assistant Jedd Fisch, it will be interesting to see how the Trojans’ defense adjusts to what Arizona has to offer on offense.  

The Trojans had all they could handle with Arizona (photo above) last season in Tucson and escaped with a 34-30 victory. (Photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

Comments:  In terms of being an attractive game, there is a reason the Trojans elected to make Arizona the Homecoming Game. The main reason is that USC should be able to satisfy the Trojans masses and alumni with a big victory and continue some momentum at the expense of the Wildcats. 

RANKING: NO. 5

The Obvious: In the fourth game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host Oregon State on Saturday, Sept. 25, with kickoff time TBD.

It’s been a while since the Trojans and the Beavers (photo above) have played (2018), but they’ll get to renew their struggles on Saturday, Sept. 25.

The Not So Obvious game information: 

Head coach: Jonathan Smith (4th season, 9-22)

Conference: Pac-12 North

2020 Record: 2-5 Pac-12

2020 score against the Trojans: DNP

2020 Bowl Game: DNP

Returning offense: 9

Returning defense: 7

Returning Special Teams: Kicker and Punter

Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith (photo above) has rebuilt the Beavers into a respectable program.

Before and after: The week before the two teams meet in Los Angeles, the Trojans play at Washington State (Sept. 18) and Oregon State hosts Idaho (Sept. 18). The week following USC/OSU, the Trojans play at Colorado (Oct. 2) and Oregon State hosts Washington (Oct. 2). 

Projected late Los Angeles September Weather Forecast: High of 82, low of 64 degrees

Pros: Many believe that the Trojans will be 3-0 heading into this game. If the Trojans show they will run the ball and be effective, this is the type of game that should provide greater evidence of the offense’s progression. The Trojans hold a four-game winning streak over the Beavers and the last time these two played was in 2018, a 38-21 victory in Corvallis. 

Cons: Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith has proven he can build a program. This could be the type of game that some might refer to as a trap game because the Beavers are not one of the glamour teams of the Pac-12, and it’s been a while since the two programs have met. However, don’t be misled, Oregon State will be prepared to play the Trojans, and we’ll see how the attendance and support of the Trojans is at this point of the season.  

The aggressive Trojans’ defense (photo above) will be looking for Beavers when they play the boys from Corvallis.

Comments: Much of the focus on Clay Helton and the program will center on what is the team’s record prior to the Oregon State game. While most believe the Trojans will be undefeated, overlooking the Beavers would not be a healthy thing to do.

RANKING: NO. 4

The Obvious: In the eleventh game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host BYU on Saturday, Nov. 27, with kickoff time TBD.

Revenge on Saturday, Nov. 27, will be on the mind of the Trojans when they remember their last meeting with BYU in Provo, a bitter 30-27 overtime loss, which was reflected on the giant scoreboard (photo above).

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: Kalani Sitake (6thth season, 38-26)

Conference: No conference affiliation

2020 Record:11-1 overall

2020 score against the Trojans: DNP

2020 Bowl Game: Beat UCF 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl

Returning offense: 7

Returning defense: 4

Returning Special Teams: Kicker and punter

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake (photo above) will try and extend his BYU winning streak over the Trojans to two games when the teams meet in L.A.

Before and after: The week before the two teams meet in Los Angeles, the Trojans host UCLA (Nov. 20) and BYU plays at Georgia Southern (Nov. 20). The following week after USC/BYU, there are no regular season games scheduled.

Projected late L.A. November Weather Forecast: High of 70, low of 51 degrees

Pros: Playing BYU at the end of the season could provide the Trojans the kind of celebration they need if the cardinal and gold have clinched a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas. Last time the two teams met was in Provo, and the Trojans suffered a double-overtime loss so revenge should be a factor. Depending how the Trojans previous 11 games have played out, attendance from the BYU turnout should be large, which will add to the intensity of the final regular season game.    

Cons: BYU lost their heralded quarterback Zack Wilson, now in the NFL, but by the time the 12th game of the season rolls around, the new guy will be plenty experienced. The Cougars will bring their usual physical style of play to the Coliseum, which could be a negative for the Trojans – if USC will be heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game the following Friday night in Vegas. A bruising game could present some future issues. Also, even if the Trojans don’t go to the conference title game, what bowl game will still be available to them, and will Clay Helton still be the coach?

While BYU (photo above) started the 2021 season with some new parts,  the Cougars will be more than experienced when they face the Trojans in USC’s last game of the regular season.

Comments: A victory over BYU at home at the end of the season could do wonders for the confidence and the stability of not only the team but for Clay Helton’s job. Of course, a regular-season ending loss could set in motion all sorts of repercussions, and you don’t have to be a sports guru to figure it out. Both teams could have a lot to gain or a lot to lose. Remember, BYU is an independent and does not play in a conference, so their bowl future may depend on the outcome of this game.

RANKING: NO. 3  

The Obvious: In the second game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host Stanford on Saturday evening, Sept. 11, with kickoff time at 7:30 p.m. PT.

The Trojans will open Pac-12 play when they host the Stanford Cardinal (photo above) on Saturday night, Sept. 11, at 7:30 p.m. PT.

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: David Shaw (11th season, 90-36)

Conference: Pac-12 North

2020 Record: 4-2 Pac-12

2020 score against the Trojans: DNP

2020 Bowl Game: DNP

Returning offense: 6

Returning defense: 7

Returning Special Teams: Punter

Stanford head football coach David Shaw (photo above) is into his second decade of being the leader of the Cardinal.

Before and after: The week before the two teams meet in Los Angeles, the Trojans host San Jose State (Sept. 4) and Stanford hosts Kansas State (Sept. 4). The following week after USC/Stanford, the Trojans play at Washington State (Sept. 18) and Stanford plays at Vanderbilt (Sept. 18). 

Projected L.A. mid-September Weather Forecast: High of 84, low of 65 degrees

Pros: If you want to look at this “traditional” Pac-12 opener for both teams as the first true measurement for both teams, you’ve probably nailed it. After having opened up against San Jose State, the Trojans will take a giant step into a physical conference game. The Men of Troy could be severely tested by the Cardinal, and after this game, we should have an idea of what direction Helton’s team may be headed, which is a good thing…if the Cardinal and Gold win. The game is a 7:30 kickoff, so weather (AKA heat) should not be a factor.   

Cons: Since the game is at 7:30 p.m., just how many fans will show for this late night affair and support the team? What will the announced crowd be compared to how many fans are actually in seats? Clay Helton has had some success against Stanford, and Cardinal head coach David Shaw knows it. No doubt, Shaw will test the Trojans physical manhood, and the Trojans better be ready to put up their fists in a gridiron way. The Trojans cannot afford to lose the conference opener for all the obvious reasons. If they do, the drumbeat on the future of Clay Helton will skyrocket. 

Whenever the Trojans and Stanford (photo above) get together in the Coliseum, it is sure to be a hard-fought game.

Comments: A victory over Stanford at home would energize the Trojans heading deeper into their schedule and would do wonders for fan enthusiasm. It wouldn’t be a reach to say even in the second game of the season, Stanford will provide a stiff test of Clay Helton’s team and a chance to really get some positive conference momentum started.

RANKING: No. 2

The Obvious: In the eleventh game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 20, with kickoff time TBD.

There is no love lost when the Trojans and Bruins (photo above) have at it in the Coliseum, and the two will meet on Saturday, Nov. 13. (Photo by Jose / MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: Chip Kelly (4th UCLA season, 10-21)

Conference: Pac-12 South

2020 Record: 3-4 Pac-12

2020 score against the Trojans: USC 43, UCLA 38

2020 Bowl Game: Did not participate

Returning offense: 9

Returning defense: 9

Returning Special Teams: Punter

UCLA coach Chip Kelly (photo above) will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak to the Trojans in early November. Last season the Bruins lost to the Trojans 43-38.

Before and after: The week before the two teams meet in Los Angeles, the Trojans play at Cal (Nov. 13) and UCLA hosts Colorado (Nov.. 13). The following week after USC/UCLA, the Trojans host BYU (Nov. 27) and UCLA hosts Cal (Nov. 27).

Projected L.A. mid-November Weather Forecast: High of 71, low of 52 degrees

Pros: The game is being played this season in the Coliseum, and there is nothing quite like USC/UCLA in downtown L.A. You don’t have to sell either team on the importance of the game, and if this meeting decides the Pac-12 South Division title, the Trojans will have all the comforts of home. The hope, of course, is that the Trojans will be right there to win the title in the Coli. Troy will be looking to beat the Bruins for the third straight season.

Cons: A loss to the Bruins and a potential elimination of the Trojans for the Pac-12 South Division title could have devastating consequences for Clay Helton’s future. Take into consideration the Trojans will probably have a boatload of recruits on hand, this is a must win, which adds to the pressure. At this point in the season, it could come down to the health of Trojans QB Kedon Slovis and the status of the Trojans’ defensive line, which is sure to be challenged by Chip Kelly’s ground game.   

Trojans All-Pac-12 quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above) will be looking to torment the UCLA secondary again this season. (Photo by Jose / MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Comments: This crosstown rivalry game could have everything or nothing on the line. The future of both head coaches could be at stake in this one. A win over the Bruins could have extraordinary ramifications and so could a loss. Either way, this No.2 ranking in the home schedule could actually become the No. 1 game depending on previous conference results.

RANKING: NO. 1

The Obvious: In the sixth game of the 2021 season, the Trojans host Utah on Saturday, Oct. 9, with kickoff time TBD.

The Pac-12 South Division race winner between the Trojans and the Utes (photo above) will likely be atop the divisional standings when the dust settles.

The Not So Obvious game information:

Head coach: Kyle Whittingham (18th season, 134-66)

Conference: Pac-12 South

2020 Record: 3-2 Pac-12

2020 score against the Trojans: USC 33, Utah 17

2020 Bowl Game: DNP

Returning offense: 7

Returning defense: 9

Returning Special Teams: Kicker

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham (photo above) has never defeated the Trojans in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Before and after: The week before the two teams meet in Los Angeles, the Trojans play at Colorado (Oct. 2) and Utah has a bye. The following week after USC/Utah, the Trojans have a bye and Utah hosts Arizona State (Oct. 16). 

Projected L.A. early October Weather Forecast: High of 80, low of 61 degrees

Pros: A win over the Utes will probably put the Trojans in a good place inside the Pac-12-South standings. Up to this point, this is probably the biggest game of the year for the Trojans. Winning is incredibly important, and it figures that fans will turn out no matter what time the kickoff. If Clay Helton is going to keep the momentum going, this would be the game to do it. 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 that. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Trojans have is that the Utes have never won in the Coliseum and are 1-9 in games played in Los Angeles.

Cons: The Trojans have been challenged by Utah’s defenses in the past, and this figures to be another outstanding edition of a Kyle Whittingham coached team.  Don’t be misled by last season’s 33-17 Trojans win at Utah as COVID just ruined the Utah schedule. The Utes were completely disoriented – not to mention missing their vaunted home crowd support. No, the Trojans should expect a “playoff” effort by Utah and the Utes figure to bring it.

It figures that when the Utes (photo above) try to snap their long losing streak against Troy in Los Angeles, the game will be physical donnybrook.

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. To say a lot is on the line is an understatement.

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

The Not So Obvious: From the return of fans to the Coliseum to playing some big game at the legendary Coliseum 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 and the Trojans will be an intriguing cardinal and gold location to be one way or the other.



Author
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.


More Articles By Greg